Spotlight or Silence? The Best Way to Help Brittney Griner
TBrittney Griner was detained in Russia on Thursday after Russian authorities said that she would be held until May 19. They are continuing to investigate.
Griner, who had been playing professional basketball in Russia before the country’s invasion of Ukraine, was taken into custody in February after authorities allegedly found hashish oil on her at an airport. Griner has not been released, and there are no details as to where she is currently being held.
Much of the discussion about Griner’s case has focused on what some see as a lack of vocal outrage from the WNBA, her peers, and even the United States government. It’s not uncommon for high-profile arrests of American citizens in international territories to lead to outrage; the relative dearth of protest about Griner has been seen as a indictment of both racism and the disregard 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 vindictive matter while actions are taken behind the scenes to ensure her release.
Tim Bradley, an ex-FBI agent, is currently a security consultant with IMG Global. This agency offers travel-insurance. Bradley spoke to TIME about Griner’s situation and possible outcome.
TIME: What do you think about Brittney Griner’s situation?
BRADLEY: I think it’s right out of the Russian playbook. On the basis of Ukraine’s imminent invasion, it is hard to believe she was being targeted. Russian authorities have a history of unlawfully detaining U.S. citizens. It just doesn’t pass the smell test that all of a sudden an American [trying to leave Russia]This would result in customs being stopped. It’s not shocking that the Russian government would do this.
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Does it seem strange for Griner to be taken this far?
They made her an easy target. We don’t know the Russian government’s true intentions, but it has a long history of this. It is part of their diplomatic arsenal to impress people or get the results they desire from others. She may be even more attractive because of her public profile.
When a prominent American citizen is detained abroad, it’s helpful to either shine a light on the matter or keep silent.
To the extent that you can, shine a spotlight on it, but you have to understand the Russian government doesn’t really move by external pressure. You can witness what they’ve done with their invasion of Ukraine, and the punishing sanctions don’t seem to be deterring them too much. The Russian population is being deterred by it, but the people who are making decisions in the Kremlin don’t seem to be at this point.
This issue would still be raised if it were a close family member. It’s going to be a hard resolution to get her out of that country. The more you put pressure on Russia’s government, the better.
Griner believes that there are both sides to the argument currently being presented in media. Are experts arguing about who is better?
My opinion is that the spotlight should shine on [the Russians] [to] ensure that she’s getting good treatment. Referring to what [Griner]Should do is to say to them, “I want to speak with a representative of the United States Embassy.” Until she does that, she shouldn’t say anything. She should let the outside pressure come from somewhere else, and not her.
In Russia an admission of guilt means you’re guilty, there’s no way around it. They don’t have the protections that a prisoner in the United States would have. She’s looking at a 10-year prison sentence. [Authorities] can say something along the lines of, “If you just admit to this we can let you go.” Well, you admit to it and then they say, “Now we can’t let you go.”
As her agent, she would have me on all talk shows. People should know this information and I will do my best to make it as alive as possible. Sometimes it makes sense to stay below the radar but in this case, you’re competing with a war in Ukraine. You’ve got to keep this visible and keep the pressure up.
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Surprised that the details of this case have not been revealed?
It is not. It will only be a brief case. The trial won’t be open and if she’s convicted we’ll never know what the evidence was. More than likely it’ll be some customs officer saying “I found this in her bag and it tested positive for a controlled substance.” There won’t be a judicial review.
This 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?
They do. There’s no doubt about it. From our extensive experience with international travelers, there are special guidelines and recommendations that we offer to them. It’s viewed completely differently over there. Russian officials have an extremely closed relationship with the LGBTQ community. She could be seen as a target because of this.
Given the context of what’s happening in Russia and Ukraine right now, what do you think is the most likely outcome of this incident?
Most likely they will convict her, send her to prison and wait until a diplomatic opportunity arises to swap her for another. This is the most common outcome of these cases. This is a diplomatic tactic. They wish to trade for someone they trust.
It is hard for me to believe she was taken accidentally.
The interview was edited to be more concise and clear.
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