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WNBA star Brittney Griner’s pre-trial detention in Russia extended as US works to negotiate her release

(NEW YORK) — Brittney Griner’s pre-trial detention in Russia was extended by one month on Friday as the United States works to secure the WNBA star’s freedom.

The extension comes one week after the U.S. State Department reclassified Griner as being “wrongfully detained” in Russia.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is among the highest priorities of the U.S government. The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a department spokesperson told ABC News last week. “With this determination, the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”

With this classification, the U.S. will now be more involved in negotiating for her freedom.

“Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home,” Griner’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa Colas, said in a statement last week.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was visiting Russia to play basketball off-season and was arrested in February at a Moscow area airport for allegedly having vape cartridges in her luggage that contained hashish oil — an illegal substance in Russia.

She is facing drug charges with up to 10 years in prison, according to Russian media reports, and her pre-trial detention was extended in March to May 19.

Griner met with a U.S. official from the consular officer in Russia on March 24 amid a push from the U.S. to gain access to the WNBA star.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC News the U.S. is “deeply concerned about our lack of consistent consular access to these U.S. citizens in recent months.”

“While the Government of Russia has allowed consular access in this instance, we continue to insist that they allow regular, timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees in Russia, including those in pre-trial detention. We take our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens seriously, and we will continue to press for fair and transparent treatment for all U.S. citizens when they are subject to legal processes overseas,” the spokesperson said.

Calls to free Griner escalated following the release of Marine veteran Trevor Reed last month, who was freed from Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange.

Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained on Feb. 17. Some officials are concerned that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing conflict.

The WNBA honored Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on the sideline of all 12 WNBA teams as the 2022 season kicked off last Friday.

“As we begin the 2022 season, 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 on Tuesday. “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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