WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison and sent back home to the United States following a prisoner exchange.
“Moments ago, I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” President Joe Biden, who stood by Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, tweeted Thursday morning.
In February, Griner, 32, was arrested in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport after officials found vape pen canisters containing cannabis oil in her luggage. On Aug. 4, a court found her guilty and sentenced her to 9 years in prison.
“Miraculously, mercifully, the count of days detained has ended at 294, and our friend, our sister, is headed back home where she belongs,” Griner’s team, the Phoenix Mercury, and NBA’s Phoenix Suns said in a joint statement, according to ESPN. “The emotions for our organization, just like for our fans and so many across the world, are those of joyous celebration, deep gratitude, grief for the time lost, and sincere hope for all families still awaiting the return of a loved one.”
After months of negotiations between the U.S. and Russia, leaders of both countries agreed to do a prisoner swap between Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death.” As reported by CBN News, Bout, a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel, was serving a 25-year sentence for selling millions of dollars in weapons to be used against Americans.
U.S. officials had also clamored for the release of Paul Whelan, a Michigan man and former marine who was arrested in Russia in December 2018 on espionage charges. The final decision, however, was a one-to-one swap.
“I am greatly disappointed that more has not been done to secure my release, especially as the four-year anniversary of my arrest is coming up,” Whelan, who’s currently detained in a Russian penal colony, told CNN over the phone.
While he celebrated Griner’s release, Whelan hopes the Biden administration “would do everything they could to get me home, regardless of the price they might have to pay at this point.”
“I would say that if a message could go to President Biden, that this is a precarious situation that needs to be resolved quickly,” he added.
Early Friday morning, Griner arrived in the U.S. after landing in Kelly Field in San Antonio, Texas.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Mike Mattina/Stringer
Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer. He is also the co-hosts of the For Your Soul podcast, which seeks to equip the church with biblical truth and sound doctrine. Visit his blog Blessed Are The Forgiven.