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Reports: U.S. declares WNBA star Griner is being 'wrongfully detained' in Russia

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Reports: U.S. declares WNBA star Griner is being 'wrongfully detained' in Russia
The State Department said that Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead an interagency team for securing Brittney Griner's release. File Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

May 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. government has officially changed its designation for WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner in Russia, where she's been held for almost three months on drug charges, as one of "wrongful detention," according to news reports Tuesday.

Griner was arrested in February on charges that she was found in possession of hashish oil, a substance that's illegal in Russia. Until now, the U.S. government has made no overt efforts to get her released.

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The State Department has now changed her designation and says she's being "wrongfully" held. The change in designation means that the government will no longer wait for the Russian justice system to resolve the issue and will take more proactive steps to win her release.

ESPN, The Washington Post and NPR reported the change Tuesday.

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The department said that Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead an interagency team for securing Griner's release, the ESPN report said.

Griner is one of many WNBA players who have competed in Russia to earn more money during the WNBA offseason. A Russian court later extended the detention for the Phoenix Mercury star and Olympic gold medalist to at least May 19.

WNBA star Brittney Griner (C), who won a gold medal with the United States national team at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, has been detained in Russia since February. File Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI
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"Our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home," Griner's agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said according to ESPN.

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The new WNBA season is scheduled to begin on Friday. The league said that Griner's initials and jersey number will adorn the courts of all 12 teams.

"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."

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There is some optimism for Griner's potential release after President Joe Biden successfully freed another American held in Russia -- Trevor Reed, who was let go last week in a prisoner exchange with a Russian drug trafficker. Reed had spent three years in Russia on charges of assaulting a police officer.

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