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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The United States government claims that Brittney Griner was ‘wrongfully detained’

More than two months after W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia on suspicion of having narcotics in her baggage and brought into jail, the United States State Department said on Tuesday that she had been “wrongfully detained.”

Griner, 31, has been detained in Russia since February on drug-related accusations that, if found guilty, may result in a prison term of up to ten years. After a two-week break from basketball, Griner returned to Russia to resume playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg, a professional women’s basketball team. Russian customs officials accused Griner of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at a Moscow-area airport as she returned to resume playing for UMMC Yekaterinburg.

According to Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, “Brittney has been imprisoned for 75 days, and our hope is that the White House would do everything is required to get her back home.”

The State Department did not explain why it had changed its mind and now considered Griner to have been unfairly held. ESPN was the first to break the news of the adjustment.

According to a law passed by Congress in 2020, any one of the 11 criteria for such a designation can be sufficient justification for the detainee’s release. These criteria include “credible information indicating the detainee’s innocence,” “credible reports that the detention is a pretext for an illegitimate purpose,” and a determination that “diplomatic engagement is likely necessary” on the part of the United States.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken must personally authorise any such designation, and responsibility for the case must be transferred from the department’s consular affairs bureau to the office of special envoy for hostage matters, according to federal law.

Some of Griner’s friends and inner circle were worried about Griner’s case being politicised as a result of the fraying relationship between the United States and Russia, as well as the tensions surrounding the conflict in Ukraine, and they were right to be concerned. Because of a policy of quiet diplomacy, most women’s national basketball association players and government officials have spoken nothing about the matter other than to express broad support for Griner.

As in earlier instances of unjust imprisonment, the United States has stated that it would not connect the destiny of imprisoned people with the fate of broader public policy concerns. Among other things, the State Department has said on several occasions that Americans detained in Iran are not a part of the discussions between Washington and Tehran to reinstate the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

An appeal by Griner’s legal team in Russia, which had sought to have her moved to house arrest, was dismissed by a Russian court in March. Griner’s incarceration has now been prolonged until at least May 19, according to the court’s decision. The hearing did not address the merits of the matter in question.

The announcement of Griner’s new status comes less than a week after the United States and Russia completed a prisoner exchange. Trevor R. Reed, a former United States Marine, had been jailed in Russia for more than two years on what his family believed to be fabricated claims of assault.

Reed’s release sparked fresh hope that Griner might be released as well.

“As I do everything in my power to bring BG home, my heart is overflowing with joy for the Reed family,” Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, posted on Instagram. but I am familiar with the agony of having a loved one incarcerated in a distant country. That amount of discomfort is persistent, and the only way to alleviate it is by a safe return home.”

According to Cynthia Loertscher, director of research at the nonprofit James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, the average case duration among publicly-known examples of Americans wrongly detained overseas has been more than four years. A former American journalist who was abducted in Syria and beheaded by the Islamic State in 2014 was the inspiration for the foundation’s name.

The United States has identified as unlawfully detained Americans citizens and nationals who are now imprisoned in countries such as China, Venezuela, Iran, Afghanistan, Belarus, Myanmar, and Cuba, among others, as well as citizens and nationals of other countries. In a February interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Roger D. Carstens, the diplomat who would be in charge of monitoring the interagency campaign to liberate Griner, said that more than 40 Americans have been unlawfully jailed overseas.

Many Women’s National Basketball Association players join overseas teams in order to supplement their income during the league’s off-season. The top-tier players may earn more than $1 million per year by participating in tournaments in Russia. In the 2022 season, Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time All-Star, is expected to make around $228,000 with the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Mercury, according to the website Her Hoop Stats, which is just short of the league’s maximum wage.

The Women’s National Basketball Association’s new season starts on Friday. On the sidelines of clubs’ home courts, the league intends to “acknowledge the value” of Griner by displaying her initials and jersey number, 42, to “recognise her contributions.”

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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