Crime and Justice Local

International Outcry Grows Over Wrongful Detention of American Journalist in Russia


NEW YORK-In a dramatic turn of events surrounding the wrongful detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russia, the international community is uniting to demand his release.

Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, has been held in Russia on espionage charges for over 160 days, with mounting evidence suggesting that his arrest is politically motivated.

The UN Petition Urging for Justice

On September 12, 2023, lawyers representing Evan Gershkovich filed a petition with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging the international body to declare his detention arbitrary and in violation of international law. The petition argues that Russia has failed to produce any credible evidence to support its espionage accusations against the 31-year-old journalist. Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 while on a reporting assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg, nearly 1,200 miles east of Moscow.

According to the petition, Gershkovich’s detention is not rooted in any legitimate belief that he is a spy, but rather a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin using him as a pawn for political leverage and potential ransom, mirroring a pattern that has been observed with other wrongfully detained American citizens.

The Journal’s Plea for Justice

The Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones, which Evan Gershkovich worked for, has joined the call for justice. Jason Conti, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Dow Jones, expressed the newspaper’s hope for the UN to issue an opinion that Russia has failed to uphold its obligations under international law and to urgently demand Gershkovich’s release. Conti made this statement during a news conference at the UN Correspondents Association.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention is an assembly of five independent experts, functioning under the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council. Its primary mission is to investigate cases of arbitrary detention, those that violate international standards articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has previously hinted at the possibility of a swap for Evan Gershkovich, but only after a verdict has been reached in his espionage trial. However, espionage trials in Russia are known to extend for extended periods, often lasting more than a year, and as of now, no trial date has been set for Gershkovich.

Gershkovich’s Legal Battles

In Russia, Evan Gershkovich’s legal team has been actively pursuing his release. They have recently appealed a Moscow court’s decision to extend Gershkovich’s pretrial detention until the end of November, a move that underscores the family’s determination to secure his release.

Paul Beckett, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief, provided an update on Gershkovich’s condition, stating that he is holding up relatively well given the circumstances. Gershkovich, who is young and in good health, has maintained communication through letters and is visited by lawyers and occasional U.S. diplomats.

A Grim History and a Growing Pattern

Evan Gershkovich’s case has drawn international attention as he is the first American reporter to face espionage charges in Russia since September 1986 when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB. The similarity between these cases underscores Russia’s continued use of arbitrary detention as a political tool.

Mariana Katzarova, the first U.N. special investigator on human rights in Russia, emphasized that Gershkovich should be released immediately, as his arrest fundamentally pertains to the exercise of his profession as a journalist. Katzarova also raised concerns about a significant escalation in the use of espionage charges in Russia, highlighting that 80 people have been charged with treason in the first seven months of this year, compared to 16 convictions on espionage and treason charges last year.

Katzarova’s concerns underline a growing trend in Russia, where charges of espionage and treason are increasingly being employed to stifle independent media and dissenting voices.

International Outcry and the Road Ahead

The international community’s collective outcry over Evan Gershkovich’s wrongful detention sends a resounding message to Russia and other nations that infringing upon freedom of the press and the rights of journalists will not go unnoticed or unchallenged.

As Gershkovich’s case continues to unfold, the pressure on Russia to uphold its obligations under international law and release the journalist will undoubtedly intensify. With a petition before the United Nations and a growing chorus of voices advocating for his freedom, Evan Gershkovich’s plight serves as a stark reminder of the importance of press freedom and human rights worldwide.

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