Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport in February, when Russian authorities claimed she had cannabis oil in her luggage and accused her of smuggling significant amounts of a narcotic substance, an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and star of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury plays in Russia during that league’s offseason.
“Our position for some time on this has been very clear: Brittney Griner should not be detained. She should not be detained for a single day longer,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday.
The State Department learned of the news through Russian state media reports, Price said. The US last had consular access to Griner last month, he told reporters.
Teammates ‘want her back home’
“We are on Day 116 since BG has been wrongfully detained,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said, adding, “She’s our teammate, she’s an American and we want her back home.”
For star guard Diana Taurasi, the State Department’s announcement that Griner’s detention was wrongful signaled to the team that officials are taking the situation seriously, she said Monday.
“It’s something that we’ve all talked about intimately as a group, and now knowing the State Department at the highest level — from US President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained — gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,” Taurasi said.
“Anything that we can do on our side to amplify and to put BG first will be our No. 1 priority,” she said.
Holding Russia accountable will “force Russia to end this practice for all Americans that they’re holding there,” including Griner and Paul Whelan, Reed told CNN. Whelan, a US citizen and former Marine, was detained at a Moscow hotel in 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he has denied.
CNN has reached out to the UN and Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN for comment on Reed’s petition.
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.