Freeing WNBA star Brittney Griner from Russian detainment has turned into a complicated three-month-long process. Government agencies and officials from the WNBA have been mum about details surrounding the case and her pending trial. Just last week, Griner’s detainment was extended for one month, but what does it mean and why isn’t anyone saying more about her current situation?
While speaking at the draft lottery on May 17, NBA commissioner Adam Silver addressed some of those pressing questions about the Houston natives’ fight for freedom.
“Both the WNBA and its brother league, the NBA, we have a huge responsibility to Brittney Griner as one of our players.” Silver told ESPN. “Part of our decision to not take a higher profile here frankly came at the suggestion of experts in and out of government who thought the best path to getting Brittney out was not to amplify the issue,”
“Having said that, there’s an enormous role for the public to play through protests or letting their representatives know how strongly they feel about this.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. government changed Griner’s status to “wrongfully detained,” signaling hope on the horizon. As previously reported, Griner’s case will now be handled by the office of the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), who can pursue action against the case through negotiation. The department won’t have to wait for Griner’s Russian legal proceedings to play out through trial, which could expedite her return to U.S. soil. Previously, the 31-year-old’s case was led by the consular office.
Silver told viewers that he and Cathy Engelbert, the commissioner of the WNBA, were working on the “issue every single day.”
“We’re in touch with the White House, the state department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well,” he continued, before adding:
“Our number one priority is her health and safety, and making sure she gets out of Russia.
Why has Griner’s detention period been extended?
On May 13, Griner who was playing for the Russian Women’s team UMMC Ekaterinburg for the last seven years, appeared in court for a brief hearing, handcuffed and with her head hanging low. The athlete was wearing a red hoodie that barely showed her face. Officials received troubling news that her detention had been extended by one month. Alexander Boykov a representative for Griner, said he believed the extension may signal that the case could go to trial soon.
Despite Griner’s sober-looking appearance, Boykov said, “We did not receive any complaints about the detention conditions from our client.”
Around the same time, Russian state news agency TASS published a story claiming that the U.S. and Russia were allegedly in talks to exchange Griner for a Russian prisoner being held on financing terrorism charges. However, government officials told ESPN that they believed the rumors were being spread as a tactic to “pressure the U.S. government.”
Dani Gilbert, an assistant at the U.S. Air Force Academy and an expert in state-sponsored hostage-taking, believes the news could be “good or bad.”
“Timing is one of the most important factors I look for; it’s one of the clearest ways we can glean intentions in a negotiation,” he continued. “The fact that they would make that statement at the same time doesn’t seem like a coincidence. It’s consistent with how these negotiations have typically gone.”
Gilbert added at the time:
“Today’s news is a sobering reminder that international detention cases are long, winding, frustrating ordeals — rarely straightforward… It could mean buying time to work out a swift deal for her release, or it could mean more complications put on the table.”
Back in February, Griner, a 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.
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