Brittney Griner Freed, On Her Way Home After Successful Prisoner Swap

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WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian penal colony after the United States government successfully arranged a prisoner swap for the basketball player in exchange for the release of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, according to CBS News. It has been ten months since Griner was arrested in a Russian airport for possessing cannabis oils in her luggage.

Bout, nicknamed “Merchant of Death”, was currently serving a 25-year prison sentence that was issued back in 2010 following terrorism charges that stemmed from a U.S sting operation.

The exchange was negotiated with Moscow over the past few weeks and final agreement reached Thursday, according to reports. The deal was approved by President Biden last week, reports CBS News. Griner and Bout were reportedly exchanged on Thursday in the United Arab Emirates.

A White House official told CBS that President Biden spoke with Griner and her wife Thursday morning. Griner will undergo a medical evaluation. 

CNN also confirmed that Griner is in the custody of U.S. officials. President Biden spoke this morning with Griner’s wife Cherelle. His speech is below. During the speech, Biden said the United Arab Emirates helped secure Griner’s release following painstaking negotiations. The exchange reportedly happened on UAE soil. Biden said Griner never requested special treatment but just asked that the U.S. not forget about her.

Griner’s wife said she has sincere gratitude for the President, Vice President and the Biden administration as well as the WNBAPA for its advocacy.

“Today my family is whole,” Cherelle said.

The swap did not include Paul Whelan, an American who has been categorized as wrongfully detained by the White House. Whelan is a U.S. Marine who has been detained in Russia since 2018. Whelan was convicted on espionage charges in June 2020, and was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Biden said he “guarantees” Whelan’s family that they will continue to work to secure his release. He said the family must have “mixed emotions” today. Biden promised not to forget Whelan.

“BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today,” Griner’s wife said Thursday.

The WNBA star was serving a nine-year prison sentence in a Russian penal colony that many reports called a labor camp. She was initially detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after cannabis oil were found in her luggage. Griner acknowledged that the oils were in her luggage, but testified that she had no criminal intent. She pled guilty to narcotics possession and smuggling charges during her trial. Griner attempted to appeal her conviction, but it was denied by a Moscow Regional Court.

Griner called her situation “traumatic” when speaking to the court about how she’s being kept away from her family. There were reports from her wife that she was not doing well in detention.

Griner’s lawyers also argued that the imposed sentencing was excessive and “absolutely unreasonable” in comparison to other similar cases that took place on Russian soil.

More on Griner’s conviction and the campaign to bring her home, HERE.