U.S. Department of State says that Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained by the Russian government as efforts continue to get her back home, reports ESPN.com.
Griner was arrested and detained in February after the Russian Federal Customs Service said they found vape cartridges with cannabis oil cartridges in her carry-on luggage. A drug smuggling charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner. With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release,” a State Department official told ESPN.
The new designation by the government could mean a shift in strategy to get Griner home. She is set to have a hearing May 19.
The league continues to monitor the situation in Russia and support Griner as they will continue to pay her full salary.
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Starting with the season opener Friday, Griner’s initials and jersey number will be featured on the sideline of every WNBA court.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are appreciative of the support the community has shown BG and her family during this extraordinarily challenging time.”