WNBA star Brittney Griner freed from Russian custody in prisoner swap

Brittney Griner wiki photo
Brittney Griner on the basketball court wiki photo

WNBA star Brittney Griner was recently released from a Russian penal colony in a prisoner swap. Griner was being held in Russia under drug smuggling charges. She was arrested back in February 2022 for allegedly having vape cartridges with hashish oil in them. Griner was convicted on August 4, 2022 and was sentenced to nine years of imprisonment in a Russian penal colony.

Griner plays for the Phoenix Mercury and was planning to play off-season for the Russian women’s basketball team, UMMC Ekaterinburg, when she was arrested at the Sheremetyevo International Airport. Griner identifies as a Black Lesbian and is married to her wife, Cherelle Griner.

Due to much outcry and pressure, President Biden’s administration was able to secure her release through a prisoner swap. She was exchanged with the so-called “Merchant of Death”, Viktor Bout, who was charged in America with arms dealing back in 2011.

“From day one, our hearts have been with Brittney Griner, her wife Cherelle, her family and countless fans,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “So many raised their voices to call for her return, a movement to #freeBG that included the WNBA, the LGBTQ community around the world and millions of fans and others.”

Ever since her arrest back in February 2022, President Biden’s administration has worked around the clock to try and secure her release and those efforts came into fruition today as Russia agreed to the prisoner swap. As Johnson said, “We thank President Biden and all those who relentlessly negotiated and advocated for her release and return to her family. Now her jersey will be a celebration and reminder of the resilience of our people and the power of our community.”

Her arrest came about during a pivotal shift in diplomatic relations between America and Russia as Russia invaded Ukraine the same month. The Russian invasion has triggered widespread international outcry and condemnation, especially from the Biden Administration. “Make no mistake, Griner was detained in Russia on trumped up charges and leveraged as a political prisoner because of her identity as an American,” wrote Brett Abrams of the National Black Justice Coalition. He further said, “The fact that Griner was both Black and LGBTQ+ made her even more of a target – and the treatment that she faced in the Russian Court system even more horrific. The Biden Administration was right to recognize that bringing Griner home was a top priority — and we thank them for that.”

Griner was swapped for Bout at the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi located in the United Arab Emirates.

While the negotiation efforts for Griner’s release were successful, there are still many Americans who are imprisoned abroad. As Johnson said, “We advocate for the swift return of every American being held against their will as political pawns of governments that have wrongfully detained them, especially Paul Whelan. No one should have to endure what these families have, and we must continue fighting for their freedom.”

Adam Varoqua
Adam Varoqua is a gay, queer, first generation Syrian Circassian born in New Jersey. He graduated from Seton Hall University with a BA in Honors Psychology and Social & Behavioral Sciences. He previously worked for the Trevor Project and the Hudson Pride Center.