WNBA star Brittany Griner has been freed in a US/Russia prisoner swap. Griner had been detained in Russia since February 17 after being arrested on charges of bringing vape cartridges with a small amount of cannabis oil into the country as she arrived to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, an elite Russian basketball team. Until Griner’s arrest, it was common for WNBA stars to play in Russia during the league’s offseason, padding their WNBA paychecks with high six and occasionally low-seven-figure salaries.
In August, Griner was sentenced to nine years in one of Russia’s notoriously harsh penal colonies — a sentence that was widely viewed as trumped up due to the low state of relations between the US and Russia and was described as a “sham” by Amnesty International. Her appeal was denied on October 25, and she began serving a sentence in the penal colony shortly thereafter, with her lawyers mentioning that she was struggling emotionally and worrying that she would not be freed.
Griner had long been the topic of a potential prisoner swap between Russia and the US, with athletes across major US sports leagues calling for her immediate release, though, for months it did not seem as if any progress was being made towards an agreement. The prisoner swapped for Griner was Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death” who’d been convicted on four counts by a New York jury in 2011, including conspiring to kill American citizens.
“I spoke with Brittany Griner,” US President Joe Biden said. “She’s safe. She’s on a plane. She’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held in intolerable circumstances … Brittany will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones — and she should have been there all along.”
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