US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian prison after serving ten months of a nine year sentence for possession of cannabis and drug smuggling.
In a dramatic turn of events, the seven-times WNBA All-star was freed in exchange for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout who was serving 25 years for various offences relating to terrorism. The 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War starring Nicholas Cage was loosely based on the life of Viktor Bout, also known as the ‘Merchant of Death.’
President Biden who personally brokered the deal after previously promising to make Griner’s release a priority said “She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home after months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under intolerable circumstances… Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”
Griner, who was named Women’s Basketball High School player of the year in 2009, was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on February 17th 2022 and charged with drug smuggling and drug possession after customs agents found a cannabis vape cartridge in her luggage.
Possession of any amount of cannabis is illegal in Russia, however anything up to six grams is considered an administrative offence, and over six grams is a criminal offence. The charge that Brittney Griner was handed carries a maximum ten year prison sentence.
There were various statements issued from both the Russian and US governments following Griner’s arrest, with the US government taking a non-confrontational approach due to tensions arising from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In March a judge granted an extension on Griner’s detention while further investigations were carried out, which was followed by a statement from the Russian Public Monitoring Commission that said, “the only objective problem has turned out to be the basketball player’s height. The beds in the cell are clearly intended for a person of lesser height.”
At the trial in July Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to drug smuggling and drug possession and gave a statement to the court; “I never meant to hurt anybody. I never meant to put in jeopardy the Russian population. I never meant to break any laws here. I want to apologise to my teammates, to my club UMMC, to the fans and the city of Ekat (Yekaterinburg) for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought onto them.” The judge sentenced Griner to nine years in prison.
Cherelle Griner, Brittney’s wife, was with President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to announce the news of her release. Griner told the press she was “overwhelmed with emotion”.
“The most important emotion that I have right now is just sincere gratitude for President Biden and his entire administration. He just mentioned this work is not easy, and it has not been,” she said.
“Today my family is whole, but as you all are aware, there’s so many other families who are not whole. [Brittney] is not here to say this but I will gladly speak on her behalf and say that BG and I will remain committed to the work of getting every American home, including Paul, whose family is in our hearts today.”, said Cherelle.
Brittney Griner is due to arrive on US soil today, Friday 9th December 2022.