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Brittney Griner flies home after Russian prisoner swap for arms dealer Viktor Bout, Paul Whelan still in jail

WNBA star Brittney Griner has been freed from Russia in a prisoner swap for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout, while American Paul Whelan remains behind bars after being left out of the deal.

Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in Russian prison, was flying home on Thursday following the prisoner exchange, President Biden announced from the White House.

“I spoke with Brittney Griner,” Biden said. “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,” the president added. “And she should have been there all along.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who also played professional basketball in Russia, was arrested at a Moscow airport in February when police accused her of having vape canisters with cannabis oil. After the Russian trial, she was sent to a penal colony.

“Thank you to @POTUS, the advocates & every person who fought to free Brittney Griner,” Massachusetts Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley tweeted. “An unjustly imprisoned WNBA athlete and Black queer woman is finally returning to her wife, her family, and her teammates. Welcome home.”

Over the summer, Griner wrote a letter to Biden, urging the president to not forget about her and the other American detainees like Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

“We never forgot about Brittney,” Biden said. “We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who’s been unjustly detained in Russia for years.”

“Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s,” the president added. “And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”

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