Washington [US], December 8 (ANI): US basketball star Brittney Griner was released by Russia in a prisoner exchange after America's President Joe Biden agreed to a swap for Viktor Bout, an imprisoned Russian arms dealer.
On Thursday morning, Biden shared a picture with Brittney Griner's wife Cherelle Griner on his Twitter handle and wrote, "Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home."
Addressing a presser, Biden 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've been there all along."
He also thanked the United Arab Emirates for their help in facilitating her release as the exchange took place at Abu Dhabi airport on Thursday. He said he expected her to be back in the US in the next 24 hours.
Notably, Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death" was given a 25-year prison sentence by the US in 2012.
The basketball star's case became an international cause because she was seen as a hostage held by Russia's President Vladimir V Putin and was subjected to a broad swath of international sanctions in response to its invasion of Ukraine a week after her arrest, The New York Times reported.
Griner was described by one of her lawyers this fall as struggling emotionally and increasingly worried that she would not be freed. According to her lawyer, she was permitted outside once a day to walk for an hour in a small courtyard, and otherwise confined to a cramped cell with two cellmates. She slept on a specially elongated bed to accommodate her 6-foot-9 frame.
American officials met with her in the penal colony last month for the first time since a Russian court rejected her appeal and reported that she was doing "as well as can be expected," as a White House spokeswoman put it at the time. Griner turned 32 while in custody and her family continued to press for her release, reported The New York Times.
In February, the Russian authorities detained Brittney Griner on drug charges after finding vape cartridges that contained hashish oil in her luggage while she was at an airport near Moscow.
After her arrest, Griner, an All-Star centre with the W.N.B.A.'s Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, was sentenced to nine years in prison which President Biden termed "unacceptable" and called for the immediate release of the athlete.
"It's is unacceptable, and I call on Russia to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates," Biden said in a statement.
Earlier, in November, CNN reported that Griner was transferred to a Russian penal colony to serve the remainder of her smuggling sentence on drug charges that were upheld in late October
Describing Griner's transfer to the Russian Penal Colony as "another injustice layered on her ongoing unjust and wrongful detention," the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "As we work to secure Brittney Griner's release, we expect Russian authorities to provide our Embassy officials with regular access to all US citizens detained in Russia."
In addition to the nine-year sentence for transporting cannabis oil into Russia, for which she was found guilty of drug smuggling and possession, the US Basketball player Brittney Griner was also fined 1 million rubles (USD 16,500). (ANI)