Spotlight or Silence? The best way to help Brittney Griner

JThe arrest of WNBA player Brittney Griner in Russia took another twist on Thursday when Russian authorities announced they had extended her detention until May 19 as they continue to investigate the incident.

Griner, who played professional basketball in Russia before the country invaded Ukraine, was arrested in February after authorities allegedly found hash oil on her at an airport. Few details of the case, including Griner’s whereabouts, have come to light.

Much of the discussion about Griner’s case has focused on what some see as a lack of vocal outrage from the WNBA, his peers, and even the United States government. It is not uncommon for high-profile arrests of US citizens in international territories to provoke outrage; the relative lack of protests against Griner was seen as an indictment of both the racism and the contempt with which women’s sports are treated by the American public. However, others have argued that keeping Griner’s situation under the radar could potentially be a strategy to ensure she is not punished in a revenge affair while steps are taken behind the scenes to ensure his release.

Tim Bradley, a former FBI agent and current security consultant for IMG Global, a travel insurance agency, spoke to TIME about Griner’s situation, the possible outcome and the nuances of the detainee spotlight debate. .

TIME: What do you think of Brittney Griner’s overall situation?

BRADLEY: I think it’s straight out of the Russian playbook. I have to believe she was targeted, based on the impending invasion of Ukraine. The Russian government has a long history of wrongfully detaining American citizens. It just doesn’t pass the smell test that all of a sudden an American [trying to leave Russia] would be stopped at customs for something like that. It is not shocking that the Russian government is doing this.

Read more: Putin wants revenge not only on Ukraine, but also on the United States and its allies

Is it strange that someone like Griner, who was quite outstanding in Russia as a basketball player, is detained this way?

That probably made her an easy target for them. Who knows what the Russian government really thinks, but they have a habit of doing this. They use it as part of their diplomatic toolkit to get what they want from other countries or to show people they are in control. So I think her profile may have made her an even more obvious target.

In cases like this, where you have a high-level U.S. citizen detained in a foreign country, which tends to be more helpful: highlighting the case or keeping quiet about it. topic ?

Shine the spotlight on it as much as possible, but you have to understand that the Russian government doesn’t really budge under outside pressure. You can see what they’ve done with their invasion of Ukraine, and the punitive sanctions don’t seem to deter them too much. The Russian population is discouraged by this, but the people who make the decisions in the Kremlin do not seem to be at this stage.

If it was a member of my family, I would continue to raise this issue. It’s going to be a tough resolution to get her out of this country. So the more pressure you can put on the Russian government on the world stage, the better.

For Griner, there seem to be both sides of this argument in the media lately. Is there a debate within the expert community about what is more useful?

I think the consensus is that there should be a spotlight on [the Russians] and [to] make sure she gets good treatment. In terms of what [Griner] should do, she should tell them one thing: I want to speak to a representative of the United States Embassy. Until she does, she shouldn’t say anything. So the pressure should come from outside, not from her.

In Russia an admission of guilt means you are guilty, there is no getting around it. They don’t have the protections that a prisoner would have in the United States. She is considering a 10-year prison sentence. [Authorities] can say something like, “If you admit that, we can let you go.” Well, you admit it, and then they say, “Now we can’t let you go.”

If I was his agent, I’d be on talk shows. I would like people to know that and I would try to keep it alive. Sometimes it makes sense to stay under the radar, but in this case you’re competing with a war in Ukraine. You have to keep that visible and keep the pressure on.

Read more: How China’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could upend the world order

Are you surprised there were so few details about the case?

No not at all. The case will be made with minimal detail. The trial will not be opened and if she is convicted, we will never know what the evidence was. More than likely, it’ll be a customs officer saying “I found this in his bag and he tested positive for a controlled substance.” There will be no judicial review.

That specific situation aside, do people of color or LGBTQ+ people face a different level of risk in these kinds of situations in places like Russia?

Yes, they do. There is no doubt about it. In our experience with international travelers, we have special recommendations and guidelines that we give to travelers. It’s seen completely differently there. The Russian government has a very closed view of the LGBTQ community. That might have made her a more obvious target for them.

Given the context of what is currently happening in Russia and Ukraine, what do you think is the most likely outcome of this incident?

More than likely, they’ll find her guilty, sentence her to prison, and then wait for a diplomatic opportunity to trade her for someone else. That’s what tends to happen with these incidents. They see this as a diplomatic tactic. They want to have someone they can always talk to.

I just find it hard to believe that it was taken by chance.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Write to Josiah Bates at [email protected]


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