TL;DR: US basketball star Brittney Griner has been released from a Russian penal colony, after Russia exchanged her freedom for the freedom of arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was jailed in the US.
WNBA star Brittney Griner returned to her native US this week, having spent the past 10 months in a Russian prison.
She was released in an exchange, which saw arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been held in an American prison for 12 years after he sold arms to warlords and corrupt governments, returned to Russia. He has been dubbed the “merchant of death” - BBC
President Biden said the US “never stopped pushing” for Griner’s release - Independent
Biden shared the news on Twitter alongside photos of him with Griner’s wife Cherelle, and wrote: “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”
Back in February, Griner was detained at a Moscow airport after under a gram of cannabis oil was allegedly found in her luggage. She was jailed on the charge of transporting illegal narcotics, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison - Independent
The remote Stalin-era penal colony she was held in is known for harsh conditions and violent criminals, holding mostly women convicted of murder and assault. The prison lacked basic medicines, inmates in similar facilities have reported “slavery-like conditions” of forced labour, abuse, and insufficient protection from the cold - Independent
Initially, the plan was to swap both Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held in a Russian prison for years, for Bout. Biden ultimately wasn’t able to secure Whelan’s release, inciting criticism from NFL player Micah Parsons and Republican Adam Kinzinger - Independent
The timeline for securing Griner’s safe return has been elongated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the US midterm elections - CBS Sports
Cherelle Griner has tirelessly advocated for her wife’s release ever since she was first detained. In a speech this week, she said: “My family is whole again” - CNN
Even prior to her arrest, Griner was known as the most famous openly gay basketball player in the world - Guardian
Her status is arguably why she was used as a ‘political pawn’ by Russia. Many have argued that there was a lack of media coverage and social outrage when she was first arrested, potentially due to her being a Black lesbian - Out Traveler
Today is a win, as Griner is returned safely to her home and her wife.
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