Sometimes a journalist stops covering the news and becomes the subject of it instead. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is one of those cases. He is part of a bigger story and it is not good news.
Gershkovich, who covered Russia, Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, was arrested on March 30 by Russia’s Federal Security Service while in the city of Yekaterinburg. He was accused of espionage – the first American journalist detained in Russia on such charges since the Cold War.
Gershkovich, 31, is the son of Soviet-born Jews and grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2014 and has distinguished himself as a hardworking and dedicated journalist. Gershkovich was in Russia on a journalist visa and carried press accreditation issued by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Both the WSJ and the Biden administration have denied the espionage charges and called for his immediate release. The US State Department has designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” and launched an effort to exert pressure on Russia to attain his release. The designation means responsibility for the case has been transferred from the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the Office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, raising the issue’s political profile and allowing the government to allocate more resources to securing Gershkovich’s release, according to the WSJ. The WSJ is also actively campaigning on behalf of its jailed journalist with updates on his situation available on its website.
The American journalist seems to have fallen foul of the Russian regime following President Vladimir Putin’s inexcusable invasion of Ukraine and crackdown on human rights. Although Gershkovich left Russia in February 2022, just after the invasion, he later returned, presumably confident that he would be able to safely carry out his work as a foreign reporter.
In a handwritten note to his family mid-April, his first letter to his family since his arrest, he said he remained optimistic and looked forward to seeing them and joked about prison food.
“I am not losing hope,” he wrote in a brief note, written in Russian and addressed to his mother, father and sister. “I read. I exercise. And I am trying to write. Maybe, finally, I am going to write something good.”
His parents, who live in Philadelphia, told the WSJ that Gershkovich had become more interested in his Jewish identity while in Russia.
Apart from the difficult physical conditions and psychological stress Gershkovich must cope with in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison, his situation is worsened by a lack of visits by friends or US Embassy officials, despite repeated demands for access.
He has been allowed visits from his Russian lawyers, but this could be a sign that he is in for a lengthy detention and show trial on the trumped-up charges, which carry a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years. It is also possible that Gershkovich is being held hostage by Putin to be used as a bargaining chip in a future prisoner exchange.
Gershkovich must be freed from Russia
On World Press Freedom Day last week, Gershkovich’s case received some media attention, but what he needs is not attention but action by Russia: namely, his release.
It is not Gershkovich who has committed a crime – it is Putin’s Russia. The Russian regime is guilty of war crimes and if it were not for the bravery of reporters willing to risk everything, the world would not have the fuller picture.
Gershkovich’s arrest is not only a travesty in its own right – it is a clear threat to other local and foreign reporters. It is a throwback to the worst days of the Soviet Union, when there was no freedom at all.
The Jerusalem Post is proud to have shared the plea before Passover to keep an empty seat at the Seder table as a gesture calling for Gershkovich’s freedom. But we must not forget him and his ongoing plight as he is held hostage by a hostile regime.
There is still an empty chair in Gershkovich’s office waiting for him to return to his important work. Beyond his own suffering, Gershkovich’s arrest has significance for all those who truly value free speech, democracy and liberty.
Russia: let Evan Gershkovich go.