After nearly 10 months of being held in Russian custody, US basketball player Brittney Griner has finally been freed in a prisoner swap and is now on her way home to the United States.
Russian news agencies reported that the exchange took place at Abu Dhabi airport, where Russian officers freed Brittney Griner in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. Bout has been called “the merchant of death” and had been held in an American prison for 12 years for conspiring to support terrorists and kill Americans.
Brittney Griner was arrested at a Moscow airport on February 17 while trying to enter Russia to join her basketball team. Authorities discovered vape cartridges with less than a gram of cannabis oil inside her luggage and charged her with narcotics possession and smuggling.
In July, the Biden administration proposed a deal for a prisoner swap with Russia, but Griner was instead sentenced to nine years in prison, a decision that her lawyers described as unreasonable and excessive. Griner filed for an appeal on October 25, but the judge upheld the original sentence.
According to reports, Griner will be landing in Texas to go to a medical facility in San Antonio where she will reunite with her wife, Cherelle.
Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner.
She is safe.
She is on a plane.
She is on her way home. pic.twitter.com/FmHgfzrcDT
— President Biden (@POTUS) December 8, 2022
In an address from the White House, US President Joe Biden announced that he spoke with Griner on the phone on Thursday morning while her wife, Cherelle, was with him in the Oval Office. He also acknowledged that the “past few months have been hell for Brittney”, as she has been held in extremely difficult circumstances, but that Griner was in good spirits after being released.
Biden also spoke about Paul Whelan, another American who remains unjustly detained in Russia. He assured the public that he has not forgotten about Paul, who has been in Russian custody since December 2018. Griner’s wife spoke on her behalf and said they will remain committed to the work of getting Paul and other prisioners home safely.
Cherelle Griner says Brittney Griner and “I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul.” pic.twitter.com/npWModqAwq
— philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) December 8, 2022
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