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State Department says Brittney Griner’s case a ‘top priority’

FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner sits during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Griner is easily the most prominent American citizen known to be jailed by a foreign government. Yet as a crucial hearing approaches next month, the case against her remains shrouded in mystery, with little clarity from the Russian prosecutors. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

The Department of State emphasized Wednesday that WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case remains a “top priority” amid news of U.S. citizen Trevor Reed’s release from Russian custody.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during an interview with CNN that the Biden administration will continue to work for the release of Griner and another U.S citizen, Paul Whelan. 

Whelan, a Marine veteran, has been detained in Moscow since 2018 after authorities arrested him and later sentenced him to a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges, which he has denied.

“The case of Paul Whelan is one we continue to work day in, day out,” Price told CNN. “Paul Whelan is wrongfully detained in Russia.”

“When it comes to Brittney Griner, we are working very closely with her team. Her case is a top priority for us,” Price added. “We’re in regular contact with her team.”

Price’s remarks were made the same day that the Biden administration announced the release of Reed, another former Marine who has been detained in Russia for the last three years. 

The administration said Reed’s release was a part of a prisoner exchange for a Russian national who was jailed in the U.S. for drug trafficking charges. 

Recently, a Russian court had extended Griner’s arrest to May 19. 

The first reports of Griner’s initial detainment at a Moscow airport came after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, when Russia’s Federal Customs Service took Griner into custody after a canine unit discovered vape cartridges with cannabis oil in the star athlete’s luggage. 

Griner is a seven-time WNBA all-star pick, an Olympic gold medalist with Team USA and currently plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury. The 31-year-old star athlete competes in Russia during the league’s winter off-season.

In a statement to The Hill, WNBA spokesperson Sam Tager referred to league commissioner Cathy Engelbert’s address about Griner’s situation during the 2022 WNBA Draft earlier this month. 

“This is an unimaginable situation for BG to be in. She continues to have our full support. She’s just been such a great person in the league that I can’t be any more real about the situation she’s in,” Engelbert told the media. 

“Certainly we’re trying everything we can, every angle, working through with her legal representation, her agent, elected leaders, the administration, just everybody in our ecosystem to try to find ways to get her home safely and as quickly as we can.”

Tags Brittney Griner Brittney Griner Mosocw Ned Price Ned Price Ned Price Paul Whelan Paul Whelan Phoenix Mercury Russia Russia-Ukraine conflict Trevor Reed Trevor Reed Trevor Reed U.S. Department of State U.S. Department of State WNBA

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