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WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed from a Russian prison

WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, holds a picture of her team as she stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Aug. 4.
Evgenia Novozhenina
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Pool/AFP via Getty Images
WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was detained at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport and later charged with illegal possession of cannabis, holds a picture of her team as she stands inside a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Aug. 4.

President Biden says WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed from a Russian prison.

"Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," he wrote on Twitter.

Biden was under increasing pressure to secure Griner's release. He said last month that he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would be more willing to discuss a prisoner exchange after the U.S. midterm elections were over.

Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, is a seven-time WNBA All-Star, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and the first openly gay athlete signed to an endorsement contract by Nike. She also played for Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg basketball team during the WNBA's offseason.

She was sentenced last August by a Russian court to nine years in prison for carrying less than a gram of hash oil into Russia when she arrived in February of this year for play in the Russian women's professional basketball league. Last month, she was transferred to a prison colony in Mordovia — 300 miles southeast of Moscow — to begin serving out her sentence.

In court, Griner admitted to mistakenly packing two vape cartridges in her rush to pack her luggage — but provided documents that showed the hash oil was legally prescribed by her U.S. doctor for pain management.

WNBA star Brittney Griner leaves a courtroom after the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, on August 4, 2022.
Kirill Kudryatsev / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Griner leaves a courtroom after the court's verdict in Khimki outside Moscow, on Aug. 4.

Her arrest in February was just days before Russia invaded Ukraine as tensions between the United States and Moscow were rising.

The U.S. government had labeled Griner "wrongfully detained" and sought a prisoner swap with Russia involving Griner and another jailed American, former Marine Paul Whelan.

The White House says it made a "substantial offer" over the summer — widely reported to involve a suggested trade of convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout — in exchange for Griner and Whelan. Biden's tweet did not make a reference to Whelan.

Griner's arrest came in February amid increased tensions between the United States and Moscow, only days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

White House officials maintained Griner's freedom was an administration priority and repeatedly encouraged Moscow to take the deal or propose a serious counteroffer.

This is an ongoing story and will be updated.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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