US basketball star Brittney Griner finally freed and ‘on a plane home’ after months in Russian jail

Brittney Griner

President Joe Biden has confirmed that queer US basketball player Brittney Griner has been released from jail in Russia and is returning to the United States.

Biden tweeted to say that he had spoken with Griner and confirmed that she was “safe” and “on a plane”.

He shared photos of himself with vice president Kamala Harris and Griner’s wife, Cherelle, in the White House on a call with the sports star.

The 32-year-old was sentenced in August to nine years in a Russian penal colony after pleading guilty to drug charges. She was reportedly found at an airport with vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. 

At her sentencing, Griner told the court she had made “an honest mistake” and she “never meant to break any laws”. 

In a video address, president Biden said his team “never forgot” about Griner – and referenced US marine Paul Whelan, who has been behind bars in Russia since June 2020.

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Brittney Griner’s released has been celebrated by LGBTQ+ campaigners across the US and beyond.

“Britney Griner’s long awaited release is a relief for her wife, teammates, fans and all in the LGBTQ+ community who recognized the extreme danger she faced as an out gay Black woman detained in Putin’s Russia,” said GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.

“Britney’s wife Cherelle never gave up fighting for her safe return, and president Biden and the State Department never wavered in their commitment to the Griners and the LGBTQ+ community on Britney’s behalf. We can’t wait to welcome Britney home.”

Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson said Griner’s release comes “not a moment too soon”.

“Brittney is so much more than a WNBA superstar and Olympian, she is an American hero who had undergone unfathomable hardship.

“After being wrongfully held for 294 days away from her home, her friends, and most importantly her family, we celebrate her release.

“The HRC family is grateful for the State Department’s efforts to free her – and to any member of our community facing hate and extremism – your community will never stop fighting for you, just like we never stopped fighting for Brittney.”

Brittney Griner was ‘100 per cent not OK’

In early November, Griner was moved from a detention centre to the IK-2 penal colony in Yavas, Mordovia – some 480 kilometres southeast of Moscow. 

In November this year, Cherelle Griner spoke at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards and said Brittney was “100 per cent not OK”.

“I’ve spent the last eight months riding waves of grief and to be honest, just total disbelief,” she said. “I can’t believe that I’m standing in front of you guys today and living without my favourite person, my greatest love, my sanctuary.”

Cherelle said her wife is “100 per cent not okay” despite her strength, and she said there’s “little [she] can do to ease [Brittney’s] pain”. 

“But I believe from the bottom of my heart that while I can’t bring her back, words can make a difference,” she said.