Following the release of Trevor Reed in a prisoner swap with Russia, a US State Department spokesman said Wednesday that Brittney Griner’s return to the United States remains a “top priority.”
Griner, a seven-time All-Star with the Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, was arrested in February at Sheremetyevo International Airport, where Russian officials said they discovered vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. According to ESPN, the offense could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
In March, Russian state media reported that Griner’s detention had been extended to May 19.
“We are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told CNN on Wednesday morning. “I can tell you that with the utmost certainty. We’re in regular contact with her team, we regularly are engaging through our embassy in Moscow with their counterparts in order to see to it that she’s treated fairly, to see to it that we have the consistent access to her that the Russians are required under the Vienna convention to provide.
“We will continue to pay very close attention to this case, to seek its resolution as we seek the release of Paul Whelan.”
Whelan, an American resident and former security executive, has been in custody in Russia since his arrest at a Moscow hotel in December 2018, according to The Washington Post. On Wednesday, Reed, a Marine veteran imprisoned after allegedly endangering the “life and health” of Russian police officers in an altercation, was swapped for a Russian drug trafficker who was serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States. Reed has recently been ill with tuberculosis, and his parents had lobbied for a prisoner swap, per CNN.
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Griner’s arrest came when she was returning to Russia, where she plays for Russian club UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Limited updates about the 31-year-old have been given since then, resulting in other WNBA players speaking out about her situation.
US State Department officials were granted access to meet with Griner in mid-March, Price said during a March 23 press conference. While he was not able to provide specifics on the WNBA player’s status, he said that the official that met with her said she was in “good condition.”
Prior to the 2022 WNBA draft earlier in April, league commissioner Cathy Engelbert also said the WNBA was working with “everybody in our ecosystem” to ensure Griner’s safe return from Russia.
“We continue to be working diligently on bringing Brittney Griner home,” Engelbert said. “This is an unimaginable situation for (Griner) to be in. … Certainly we’re trying everything that we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration, just everybody in our ecosystem to try and find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”
With Griner’s status still unresolved, the Mercury will reportedly get “roster relief” from the league, according to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. Griner will receive her full salary for the 2022 season.
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