Brittney Griner Freed From Russian Prison

Brittney Griner Freed From Russian Prison

Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

After having been detained for nearly ten months, WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed from Russian custody as a part of a rare high-profile prisoner exchange for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout. The swap is said to have taken place in Abu Dhabi, with President Biden tweeting shortly after: “moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

The move comes just a month after word that Griner was being transferred to a penal colony following a judge's ruling upholding her nine-year sentence. Griner was detained by Russian authorities back in February after customs discovered vape cartridges containing hash oil in her luggage. Griner pled guilty to the drug smuggling and possession charges but stated in court that she had no intention of breaking the law. Given the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine as well as the country's hostile treatment of the LGBTQ community, Griner's imprisonment became a lightning rod for countless human rights organizations that feared for her safety.

The prisoner exchange comes after months of negotiations between Russian and US officials and numerous appeals from Griner, her family and others for her return. The offer to exchange Bout for Griner was first floated out back in July, with Biden having stated that securing her release was a top policy goal, but Russian officials refused to entertain any serious negotiations until after the midterm elections so as not to give the appearance of handing the President a political victory.

US officials hoped to secure the release of Paul Whelan as well, who has been held in a Russian prison since December 2018, but that was ultimately unsuccessful. The US has maintained that the espionage charges Whelan has been held on are baseless, with Biden mentioning in a press conference that they are "not giving up" on a deal for him, adding: “We will keep negotiating in good faith for Paul’s release.”

Biden went on to say: “Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones — and she should have been there all along.” Cherelle Griner, who was also in attendance at the press conference, remarked that her wife's detainment was one of “the darkest moments” of her life and added: “Today, I’m just standing here, overwhelmed with emotions.”

In a statement, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Keira Johnson said:

“From day one, our hearts have been with Brittney Griner, her wife Cherelle, her family and countless fans. So many raised their voices to call for her return, a movement to #freeBG that included the WNBA, the LGBTQ community around the world and millions of fans and others. Number 42 has been hanging on my wall as a daily reminder of the violence and discrimination Black people, LGBTQ folks and women regularly endure in this country and around the world. After being held for months in a Russian prison on drug charges, we are overjoyed and relieved she has been released today in a one-for-one prisoner swap for international arms dealer Viktor Bout. We thank President Biden and all those who relentlessly negotiated and advocated for her release and return to her family. Now her jersey will be a celebration and reminder of the resilience of our people and the power of our community.”

Photo via Getty/ Kevin C. Cox