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WNBA star Brittney Griner released by Russia via prisoner swap

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been released from Russian prison and is returning to the U.S., the Biden administration announced Thursday.

“Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner,” President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter. “She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home.”

Griner was in Russia playing offseason basketball but was detained by Russian law enforcement after cannabis oil was found in her baggage. Possession of cannabis is illegal in Russia. She lost her appeal in November and was moved to a penal colony.

Her release was secured via a prisoner swap, the White House said.

“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,” Biden said during a speech from the White House Thursday morning. “This was a day we worked toward for a long time.”

Biden asked for Griner to have “space, privacy, and time” to heal.

“Brittney is an incomparable athlete, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for team U.S.A.,” Biden said. “She endured mistreatment and a show trial in Russia with characteristic grit and incredible dignity.”

Biden also gave a nod to Paul Whelan, an American accused of spying in Russia who has been in a labor camp there after being detained in 2018. He has a 16-year sentence but maintains his innocence.

“We have not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home. We brought home Trevor Reed when we had a chance earlier this year. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s, and while we have not yet succeeded in securing in Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up. We remain in close touch with Paul’s family, and my thoughts and prayers are with them today.”

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