Brittney Griner Finally Sees Freedom From Russian Prison

It has been a long and arduous ordeal for Brittney Griner since she was arrested in Russia but she is now finally free. As reported by NBC, the American WNBA basketball star was arrested in February on charges of drug possession and smuggling. Griner had arrived in Moscow to join her team and was found with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She was found guilty of smuggling drugs on August 4 and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Following her arrest, Griner's agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas issued a statement to ESPN. "We are aware of the situation with Brittney Griner in Russia and are in close contact with her, her legal representation in Russia, her family, her teams, and the WNBA and NBA. This is an ongoing legal matter [...] as we work to get her home, her mental and physical health remain our primary concern."

In May, Griner was still in the hands of Russian officials and The Department of State characterized her arrest as "wrongful detainment," per The Washington Post. "The U.S. government will continue to undertake efforts to provide appropriate support to Ms. Griner," a spokesperson stated. "Brittney has been detained for 75 days and our expectation is that the White House do whatever is necessary to bring her home," Colas shared. After 10 long months, Griner is on her way back to U.S. soil.

President Joe Biden makes a deal with Russia to free Brittney Griner

On December 8, President Joe Biden issued a statement that Russia has finally released Brittney Griner. "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," President Biden announced, per CNN. Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, stood alongside him and shared that she was "overwhelmed with emotions."

A source told the publication that Griner was released in exchange for a convicted arms dealer named Victor Bout. Biden acknowledged that the swap took "painstaking and intense negotiations." However, the swap did not include Paul Whelan, another American that the U.S. has categorized as wrongfully detained. "This was not a choice of which American to bring home. Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul's case differently than Brittney's. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul's release, we are not giving up. We will never give up," the President declared. Although Whelan's family is anxiously waiting for Paul to be freed, they shared their happiness for Griner's release.

Paul Whelan's family happy for Brittney Griner

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow in 2018 on espionage charges and was sentenced to 16 years in prison, per Newsweek. Although Biden's administration has been working to bring him home, they were unsuccessful in negotiating his release during the swap with Brittney Griner and Victor Bout. Although the Whelan family is "devastated" that Paul is still in Russia's custody, they are happy about Griner's release. 

Paul's sister Elizabeth Whelan stated, "As a family member of a Russian hostage, I can literally only imagine the joy she will have, being reunited with her loved ones, and in time for the holidays [...] The Biden Administration made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, and to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn't going to happen." Elizabeth went on to say that she doesn't "begrudge" Griner's freedom and that the basketball player's case was not similar to her brother's.

Paul's brother David Whelan echoed Elizabeth's sentiment. "Anytime an American comes home it's wonderful news. I'm so glad for Brittney and for Cherelle. It's a wonderful day," he told CNN. As for his brother's detainment, David stated, "We do worry about what's in Paul's future. I think it's become clear that the U.S. doesn't have any concessions that the Russian government wants for Paul, so I'm not really sure what the future holds." His worrying statement comes days after he announced that Paul was in a Russian hospital.

David Whelan is given proof of life of Paul Whelan

Paul Whelan's family hadn't heard from him since November 23 when they finally were able to contact him on December 2, per AP News. The ex-marine told the Whelan family that he was in a prison hospital but was unable to disclose the reason. Paul didn't have any previous health issues so it was unclear as to why he was hospitalized. However, Paul's brother David Whelan stated that the "call at least acts as a 'proof of life' even if nothing else is explained."

A Russian chairman of the Mordovia prison where Paul is being held said he was in the hospital for "planned treatment" and it was later revealed that he had been released and was back at his prison colony. David told NPR back in April that Paul was being held in a Russian labor camp. "They don't provide nutritional meals, and they don't really take too much care of the prisoners. There's a lot of corruption and other abuse."

Despite Russia's reluctance to hand over Paul along with Brittney Griner, President Joe Biden is not giving up, per ABC News. "We'll keep negotiating in good faith for Paul's release. I guarantee that. I say that to the family [...] I don't want any American to sit wrongfully detained one extra day if we can bring that person home." While Griner's release is happy news, many are still waiting for Paul's safe return.