In the first comments since returning to the US, the WNBA star thanks everyone who pushed for her release from Russian prison.
American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was released from detention in Russia last week, has said she will return to the court with her Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) team next season.
In his first public statements since returning to the United States following a prisoner exchange between Moscow and Washington, Griner confirmed in an Instagram post Friday that he is “home” after undergoing checkups at a military medical center in Texas.
The two-time Olympic gold medalist also expressed gratitude to a long list of supporters who advocated for her release, including her wife Cherelle Griner, the WNBA and US President Joe Biden.
“I also want to make one thing very clear: I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to saying ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted it in person soon.” Griner wrote.
Griner was released from a penal colony in Russia on December 8 in a prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison.
The WNBA star spent nearly 10 months in a Russian jail as her family, other athletes and the US government pushed for her release.
Griner was arrested and sentenced to nine years in prison after Russian authorities found vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage at a Moscow airport in February, just days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
At first, the Biden administration called Griner’s detention unjustified, and his lawyers said the sentence was excessive and not commensurate with the seriousness of the crime. She had told the court that the cannabis oil cartridges, which are illegal in Russia, ended up in her bag by mistake.
His release last week was welcomed in the US, but some Republican lawmakers criticized the Biden administration for not including Paul Whelan, a US Navy veteran sentenced to 16 years, in the trade deal. in a Russian prison on espionage charges.
Biden and his top advisers stressed that they did not choose to release Griner and leave Whelan behind, but rather that the US administration could release only the basketball star or bring neither home.
“The choice in this case was one or none because, unfortunately, Russia has continued to see [Whelan’s] case through the lens of bogus espionage charges, and they are treating it differently than they treated Brittney Griner,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.
On Friday, Griner vowed to push for the release of all Americans wrongfully detained abroad, including Whelan.
“President Biden, you brought me home and I know you are committed to bringing Paul Whelan and all Americans home too,” she said in her Instagram post.
“I will use my platform to do everything I can to help you. I also encourage everyone who played a role in bringing me home to continue their efforts to bring all Americans home. Every family deserves to be complete.”
The Phoenix Mercury will begin their WNBA season in May of next year.
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