Brittney Griner released by Russia in prison swap +2023

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 10: Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury during pregame warm up at Footprint Center on October 10, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTICE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, the user agrees to the terms of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Mattina/Getty Images)

After nearly 10 months in Russia, Brittney Griner was released from captivity on Thursday December 8th. The American WNBA star was freed in a swap; President Joe Biden agreed to release jailed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to bring Griner home.

in one tweet Released Thursday morning, President Biden said: “Earlier I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She’s on an airplane. She’s on her way home.” The tweet included two photos of Cherelle Griner, wife of Brittney Griner, in the Oval Office with Vice President Kamala Harris and President Biden.

The American professional basketball player has been jailed in Russia since February 2022 and was convicted of drug smuggling in August 2022 after cannabis oil was found on her. Russian penal colonies are notorious for harsh conditions, including physical labor for inmates and poor access to medical care CNN.

Griner had been sentenced to nine years in the Russian penal colony in August, a decision upheld in October when she tried to appeal the sentence. The basketball star’s initial detention came at the same time as US sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Many athletes and celebrities, including Stephen Curry, LeBron James and Nneka Ogwumike, have stood by Griner over the past 10 months and used their platforms to raise awareness of her situation and call for her release.

Here’s everything we know about what led to Griner’s imprisonment and what may be next.

Why was Brittney Griner in Russia?

Griner flew to Russia to play there UMMC Yekaterinburg Team. The 31-year-old was a member of the Russian basketball team for multiple WNBA off-seasons. But this particular trip came at a tense time; Griner was arrested shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine. The US State Department had one “Do not travel” notice Weeks earlier, citing the ongoing tension.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist could have decided to play abroad this off-season for many different reasons – including to earn some extra cash. WNBA players typically earn between $60,000 and $229,000while NBA players can earn more than 40 million dollars. According to Associated Press Report, “[a]Nearly half of the WNBA’s 144 players went overseas during the 2022 offseason, with top-ranked athletes earning more than $1 million. WNBA athlete Liz Cambage said on “NBA today” that she could earn “five to eight times more” if she plays abroad.

Why was Brittney Griner arrested?

In her first court appearance, Griner was accused of transporting a “substantial amount” of cannabis oil, per The Washington Post. The prosecution alleges that prior to his trip to Russia in February, Griner “purchased two cartridges for personal use, containing 0.252 grams and 0.45 grams of hash oil,” the Russian state news agency TASS reported. In her July 7 hearing, Griner told the court that she did not intentionally break the law. “I would like to plead guilty, you [honor]. But there was no intention. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said. according to Reuters. Griner’s lawyers told Russian judges in another hearing that the cannabis was prescribed for medicinal use in “severe chronic pain.” according to CNN.

“We continue to insist that she packed her suitcase in a hurry out of indiscretion and did not pay attention to the fact that substances approved in the United States ended up in this suitcase and arrived in the Russian Federation,” said Boykov , according to CNN.

On June 27, Griner spoke about her initial detention at the airport. She testified that she was forced to sign documents without understanding what they were saying, per CNN. Griner said that her rights were not read to her and that she tried to use Google Translate on her phone to understand the documents but “barely knew what was in them”. After the first round of paperwork, Griner said she was later taken to another room, her phone was taken away, and she was forced to sign even more confusing documents without explanation. Griner said no attorney was present.

Barely two months later, on August 4, Griner was sentenced by a Russian court to nine years in prison for smuggling drugs into the country. President Joe Biden released a statement On Griner’s sentencing: “Russia is wrong to hold Brittney. It is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends and teammates. My administration will continue to work tirelessly and do whatever it takes to get Brittney and Paul Whelan safely home as quickly as possible.”

But on October 25, Griner received more bad news when a Russian court dismissed her appeal against the verdict. The court called the original nine-year prison sentence “fair”. according to CNBC. “[Griner] had some hope, but that’s gone today,” Blagovolina told reporters outside the courtroom that day, according to CNBC.

When was Brittney Griner fired?

News of Griner’s release broke on Thursday morning, December 8th. Already in August 2022 Russia had confirmed it was in prisoner exchange negotiations with the United States. At the time, President Biden reportedly offered condemned the Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout (who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States) in exchange for Griner and American Paul Whelan, also reportedly imprisoned in Russia CNN. But while Griner was released, Whelan was not, reported The New York Times.

From the start, the situation sparked outrage from Griner’s family, teammates, fans, human rights organizations and others, who all called for the basketball star’s release. A #FreeBrittneyGriner movement sprung up on social media. And on June 22, multiple groups, including the National Organization For Women, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Urban League and the National Action Network, joined forces to send a letter to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, per The New York Times. The letter called on the government to “make a deal to bring Brittney home to America immediately and safely.”

Griner himself addressed the president directly in a handwritten letter in July 2022. She expressed that she was “afraid that I might be here forever”. reports CNN. “I realize you’re involved with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American inmates,” Griner said. “Please do whatever you can to bring us home.”

“It’s like a movie to me. I think, ‘In no world did I ever think, you know, that our president and a president of a foreign nation would have to sit down and discuss my wife’s freedom,'” Griner’s wife said Cherelle in an interview with Gayle King on CBS Mornings‘ Early October 2022. ‘To me, it feels like she’s a hostage.’

Cherelle continued, “I mean, this is my life and that’s why I’m sitting there and I’m like, ‘Are we going to get her back? Will I ever see my wife again?’ What’s happening? The fact that everything is so unprecedented and everything changeable is a really good word in my opinion. I feel like I’m hearing something new every day and it’s just terrifying.”

What is hash oil?

Hash oil is derived from cannabis, an illegal substance in Russia. Pursuant to article 228 of Russian Criminal CodeSomeone who commits a crime related to the “illegal acquisition, stockpiling, transport, manufacture or processing of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances or their analogues” can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

– Additional reporting by Alexis Jones, Lauren Mazzo, Sara Youngblood Gregory and Mirel Zaman

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