On February 17, 2022, now 32-year-old WNBA (Women’s National Basketball Association) star, Brittney Griner, was detained for possessing cannabis oil in her luggage after arriving in Moscow from New York City. She was released on December 8 of this past year.
During the WNBA off-season, the Phoenix Mercury star plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a Russian basketball team. Upon Griner’s arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport, a customs dog indicated that there were drugs in her carry-on bag. After searching Griner’s bag, officers discovered vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She was taken into Russian custody and charged with smuggling “narcotic drugs” into the country.
On March 17, 2022, Griner was ordered to remain in custody for an additional two months. Her detainment was extended for another month on May 13, after she had made a brief appearance in court, and once again on June 15, Griner’s lawyer, however, reported the trial was set for July 1. Meanwhile, fellow athletes including Lebron James, Megan Rapinoe, Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley and Sue Bird voiced support, while the House passed a bipartisan resolution pushing Russia for her release.
After a long, arduous, and emotional trial, on August 4, Griner was sentenced to 9 years in prison on charges of smuggling drugs into the country. Griner’s lawyers said the verdict was “absolutely unreasonable” and said they will “certainly file an appeal.”
On August 15, the appeal for Griner’s verdict began, but a month later, on October 25th, the appeal was denied and the verdict remained. On November 17, Griner’s lawyers confirmed that she had been moved to IK-2 female penal colony in a small town about seven hours from Moscow. Former prisoners and human rights activists said the prison where Griner was placed was infamous for its cruel treatment of female inmates.
On December 8, Griner was released after nearly 10 months in Russian custody. She was released in agreement to a one-on-one prisoner swap deal for international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was sentenced to be in a US prison until 2029. “Moments ago I spoke to Brittney Griner. She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home,” Biden tweeted the morning of the announcement alongside photographs of himself, Vice President Kamala Harris and Griner’s wife, Cherelle.