SAITAMA, JAPAN - JULY 27: Brittney Griner #15 of Team United States prepares to shoot a free throw against Nigeria during the second half of a Women's Preliminary Round Group B game on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Saitama Super Arena on July 27, 2021 in Saitama, Japan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
US classifies Griner as wrongfully detained in Russia
02:00 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Brittney Griner has been able to receive written correspondence from friends and family during her detention in Russia, where she has been held for over 100 days, her agent tells CNN – but the WNBA star has not been able to speak with her loved ones back home in the United States.

“While sporadic, written communication from her wife, family, friends and global sport community has been a source of comfort for BG during her wrongful detainment, going without real time, regular contact with loved ones is inhumane,” Lindsay Kagawa Colas, Griner’s agent, told CNN, adding that it has been more than 105 days since the athlete “heard her wife or family’s voice.”

“It remains clear that Brittney Griner is being used as a political pawn and it is imperative that President Biden do whatever is necessary to return Brittney home quickly and safely,” she said.

Griner receives hard copies of letters that have been printed out. Emails to Griner are printed out by her attorneys and then submitted through the Russian mail system at the detention center, a source with knowledge of the arrangement tells CNN. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the communications.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested in February at a Moscow airport while playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason. Last week, the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) marked the 100th day of her detention in Russia by renewing calls for Griner’s release.

Russian authorities claimed to have found 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. In May, a Russian court extended the 31-year-old athlete’s pretrial detention until June 18, according to Russian state news agency TASS, which cited the press service of the court.

The State Department has classified Griner as wrongfully detained in Russia and her case is now being handled by the office of US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA) Roger Carstens, a State Department official confirmed to CNN last month.

The SPEHA office leads and coordinates the government’s diplomatic efforts aimed at securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained abroad, and the shift to their office means more flexibility in efforts to negotiate her freedom, as they do not necessarily have to wait for Russian legal proceedings to play out.

CNN’s Alexa Miranda and Jill Martin contributed to this report.