We don’t joke about the rule of law in Russia. Apparently. Because she neglected it, United States women’s basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced Aug. 4 to nine years in prison for drug trafficking. When she arrived in February on Russian territory, where she was due to play for club Yekaterinburg during the American off-season, her luggage contained a vaporizer and cartridges of cannabis essence, legal in many American states.
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As a zealous supporter of an autocracy, the Russian judiciary pays primarily for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was arrested by Russian troops shortly before Ukraine’s aggression began, a far more dramatic breach of the law that has since been accompanied by a staggering number of war crimes. This invasion triggered an unprecedented series of sanctions against the Russian regime.
As Moscow recognized the day after the sentencing, by raising the possibility of a prisoner swap, the two-time Olympic gold medalist is actually less of a common-law convict and more of a hostage, which was portrayed as such by the Russian media, which insisted heavily , as well as her sexual orientation (she is openly gay). In their eyes, irrefutable proof of the supposed decline of the West.
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Before her, a former Marine, Trevor Reed, suffered a similar fate. Accused of violence against a Russian police officer, he was exchanged for a real drug dealer, also Russian, who was sentenced to twenty years in prison in the United States. Whatever the outcome, comparing the crimes of which Brittney Griner is accused and those of the prisoners or those whom Moscow is seeking to release will speak for itself.
Unfortunately, Russia is not the only country practicing the hostage-taking policy that is a hallmark of rogue states. Iran has also long made it a despicable specialty, as shown by the deal ratified by Belgium’s parliament in July that could allow the release of an Iranian diplomat who was also sentenced to prison in Belgium for his role in a planned attack The goal is a gathering of die-hard opponents of the Tehran regime in France. Brussels appears to have reconciled itself to securing the release of Western prisoners, including one who faces execution.
The United Kingdom recently witnessed the same kind of extortion of hostages in Tehran, aimed in particular at dual nationals who are invariably portrayed as agents from abroad. Just like France, which also has its share of nationals brought to court on false charges by order. Franco-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah was sentenced to five years in prison for smoking against national security and has been in detention since June 2019.
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We must relentlessly denounce this practice, which crushes people caught against their will in conflicts that run counter to them. Far from demonstrating their strength, the state-run hostage-taking is a testament to the cowardice of the regimes that resort to it. It negates criticism of western democracies, which, while imperfect, are regularly portrayed as empires of despotism. It actually says more about her than the most terrifying accusation.