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The State Department has issued more details about the ongoing case of WNBA star Brittney Griner. In a surprising turn of events, the agency announced the basketball player was being wrongfully detained in Russia.

According to CNN, Griner’s case will now be handled by the office of the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA.) The department leads and coordinates the Government’s diplomatic endeavors pertaining to the release of wrongfully detained prisoners overseas or other hostage-related matters.

What does this mean for the basketball star’s release?

The news outlet noted that the department has the authority to pursue action against the case through negotiation and won’t have to wait for Griner’s Russian legal proceedings to play out, hopefully making her long-awaited return back to U.S soil a near-distant reality. The legal fight will be led by State Department official Roger Carstens and his team, the same officials who helped free retired U.S. Marine Trevor Reed from Russia earlier this month.

“When it comes to our efforts to free Americans, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Carstens, he will go anywhere, he will talk to anyone if it means that we’re able to come home with an American, to reunite that American with her or his family,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price shared in a statement on May 2.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said the decision to classify the 31-year-old Houston native as wrongfully detained was made “in coordination with the hostage negotiator [Carstens] and the State Department,” during a White House briefing on May 3.
Psaki continued:
“But typically, and I don’t believe this will change, in order to, to leave the space to have an outcome we all want and desire, which is to bring her and any Americans detained or unjustifiably detained home, we typically don’t talk about it extensively.”
Back in February, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and center for the Phoenix Mercury was arrested at a Moscow airport after she was accused of smuggling vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage. The athlete faces up to 10 years in a Russian prison if convicted.  Griner is scheduled for a hearing on May 19, but questions still loom if the case’s new classification will have an effect on her detainment.

The WNBA is optimistic about Griner’s case

Back in the U.S. Griner’s family and WNBA teammates continue to rally for her releaseVanessa Nygaard, the head coach of the Phoenix Mercury team, said she was optimistic following the State Department’s announcement. 
“BG is in the top of our thoughts all the time, and we’re just hoping that she’s safe and that she’s gonna come home quickly,” Nygaard said, according to ESPN.
Griner’s teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith also expressed hope about her release.

“That’s still our main concern is our sister. Obviously, the season is starting and we’re dedicating this season to her until she gets back with us,” Diggins-Smith said.

“We think about her every day. We love her and we’re gonna continue to carry her legacy, her voice and play in her honor until she gets back here with us.”

The WNBA called the news “a positive development and a next step to getting her home,” adding:

“The WNBA is in constant communication with the U.S. government on Brittney’s case, working together to get her home safe and as soon as possible.”

The league will pay tribute to Griner during the 2022 season, with a floor decal that will feature her jersey number, which is 42, in addition to her initials. The decal will be posted along the sidelines of all 12 home courts. Griner will also continue to receive her full WNBA salary as the case continues, CNN noted.
“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,” WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a statement.
“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.”
Additionally, the Richardson Center for Global Engagement is working privately with Griner’s family to secure her release. The organization works to advocate for families of detainees or hostages.
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