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US officials: Griner now considered wrongfully detained

Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner pauses on the court during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Seattle Storm, on September 3, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP/Ross D. Franklin, File)
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner pauses on the court during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against the Seattle Storm, on September 3, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP/Ross D. Franklin, File)

The Biden administration has determined that WNBA star Brittney Griner is being wrongfully detained in Russia, meaning the United States will more aggressively work to secure her release even as the legal case against her plays out, two US officials say.

Griner was detained at an airport in February after Russian authorities said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis. Since then, US officials had stopped short of classifying the Phoenix Mercury player as wrongfully detained and said instead that their focus was on ensuring that she had access in jail to American consular affairs officials.

Now, though, US officials have shifted supervision of her case to a State Department section — the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — that is focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans deemed wrongfully detained.

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” says Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas.

It was unclear what prompted the shift in Griner’s case, though US President Joe Biden’s administration had been under pressure from members of Congress and others to make Griner’s release a priority.

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