NEWS

American Reporter Evan Gershkovich Marks One Year as Russian Hostage


Evan Gershkovich, the American citizen and Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter kidnapped by Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia in March 2023, marked one year in captivity on Friday, March 29.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg on highly dubious espionage charges last year and has been held without trial or evidence presented against him ever since. Russian courts have rejected a string of appeals from Gershkovich’s legal team against his unlawful imprisonment.

The WSJ mourned Gershkovich’s “stolen year” on Friday:

Evan has lost 12 months of normal existence as a kinetic and curious 32-year-old, a year he should have been jetting around Europe and the U.S. between groups of friends, his family and his reporting trips to Russia.

There has been a burst of weddings and engagements of friends from high school and college. He has missed a year of monumental changes and intrigue in Russian reporting—a cornerstone of many of his friendships with reporters and a key part of his identity. He has missed a year of Arsenal, the Mets and the Jets—his favorite teams. He has missed the final episodes of “Succession,” the finale of “Ted Lasso” and the 16th season of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

“A year is a long time. I feel like a lot has happened in my life,” said his friend and onetime Brooklyn roommate Mike Van Itallie. “To just contrast that with Evan being in the same confined place for literally that entire period of time—it’s pretty tough to fathom.”

Gershkovich is confined to a cell in Moscow’s grim Levortovo prison, formerly a KGB facility. He is generally required to stand in a cage when Russian courts periodically drag him in to extend his detention again and again – five times at last count. If his trial ever happens, he faces 20 years in prison for charges that still have not been explained to him.

ABC News on Friday quoted Russian officials who said Gerskhovich is viewed as a “bargaining chip” by the Putin regime, which hopes to exchange him for a large number of Russian criminals held in Western prisons.

Putin Attends State Council's Presidium In Veliky Novgorod

Russian President Vladimir Putin  (Contributor/Getty Images)

Putin himself has said he is interested in a prisoner swap, possibly trading Gerskhovich for Russian government hitman Vadim Krasikov, currently jailed in Germany.

Krasikov, 58, was arrested, given a fair trial, and sentenced in 2021 for the broad-daylight murder in Berlin of a man Russia accused of complicity in a 2004 terrorist attack. Putin has been eager to recover Krasikov, a high-ranking officer in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB.

Even if a swap could be arranged, the German government could be highly resistant to letting Krasikov go, not least because he gunned his victim down in front of children and their parents at a Berlin playground.

Some allies of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died under murky circumstances in an Arctic prison last month, believe he was killed to thwart a proposed prisoner swap for Krasikov that involved Navalny, Gershkovich, and another long-imprisoned American hostage, Paul Whelan.

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018, stands in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. The Moscow City Court on Monday June 15, 2020, convicted Paul Whelan on charges of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in maximum security prison colony. Whelan has insisted on his innocence, saying he was set up. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko. File)

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018, stands in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. The Moscow City Court on Monday June 15, 2020, convicted Paul Whelan on charges of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in maximum security prison colony. Whelan has insisted on his innocence, saying he was set up. (Alexander Zemlianichenko. File/AP)

WSJ Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker wrote an op-ed on Friday demanding Gerskhovich’s release and blasting Putin for treating “independent journalism and the gathering of trustworthy facts” as a crime.

Tucker called Gershkovich’s unlawful detention a “blatant attack on the rights of the free press” and called attention to the other 550 journalists imprisoned around the world, the highest number ever recorded by Reporters Without Borders (RSW).

“Dozens have been killed in the line of duty; countless others have been harassed and intimidated in their pursuit of the truth. These are statistics that should be of great concern to democratic governments and lawmakers, as well as right-minded people everywhere. Together, we must explore new ways to better support and protect journalists in the field,” Tucker wrote.

The print edition of the Wall Street Journal shipped on Friday with a blank space where the lead feature should be. The blank space was presented under Evan Gershkovich’s byline with the title, “His Story Should Be Here.”

A New York City vendor at Grand Central Station poses with a March 29, 2024, copy of The Wall Street Journal showing a mostly blank front page to mark the one year anniversary of the imprisonment in Russia of their reporter Evan Gershkovich (portrait L.). (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Friday condemning “one year of Evan Gershkovich’s wrongful detention in Russia.”

“To date, Russia has provided no evidence of wrongdoing for a simple reason: Evan did nothing wrong. Journalism is not a crime,” Blinken said.

“In the year since Evan’s wrongful detention, Russia’s already restrictive media landscape has become more oppressive, with a continued assault against independent voices targeting any form of dissent,” he observed.

Blinken said the U.S. government “remains committed” to bringing both Gershkovich and Paul Whelan home.

“People are not bargaining chips. Russia should end its practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals for political leverage and should immediately release Evan and Paul,” he said.



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