Brittney Griner behind bars in Russia

U.S. Women's National Basketball Association player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, was found guilty by a Russian court of drug smuggling and possession charges on August 4, 2022. (Photo: Evgenia Novozhenina/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

'On Her Way Home': WNBA Star Brittney Griner Freed in US-Russia Prisoner Swap

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner," said U.S. President Joe Biden. "She is safe. She is on a plane."

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U.S. Women's National Basketball Association player Brittney Griner on Thursday was freed from a Russian penal colony and is headed home thanks to a prisoner exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner," tweeted U.S. President Joe Biden, who also spoke about the development from the White House alongside Cherelle Griner, the WNBA star's wife. "She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."

Cherelle Griner expressed her "sincere gratitude" for Biden and others in his administration--including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken--and said that "today's just a happy day for me and my family."

The American basketball star has for years played for the Russian EuroLeague team UMMC Ekaterinburg during the WNBA's offseason. In August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison after cannabis oil was found in her suitcase at Sheremetyevo International Airport near Moscow earlier this year.

"Her status as a gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LGBTQIA+ community, infused gender, racial, and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance," ESPNnoted.

NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement that his group is "elated" to hear the news of Griner's imminent return and applauded Biden for ensuring her release.

"Let's be clear, Brittney's imprisonment was not only inherently political, but a clear violation of human rights," he added. "Although nothing can replace the time that she has lost, we hope that her family can find comfort in the fact that Brittney will be free to celebrate the holidays with them. Brittney, welcome home."

As CNNreported, "Bout, nicknamed the 'Merchant of Death,' is a former Soviet military officer serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization."

Biden confirmed that the swap did not include Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned by Russia, but vowed to continue negotiations to free him. As the U.S. president put it: "We are not giving up. We will never give up."

His brother David Whelan said that "I am so glad that Brittney Griner is on her way home. As the family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays."

"The Biden administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen," he added.

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