Evan Gershkovich, a prominent reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has been indicted by Russia’s Federal Security Service for spying for the United States at the Uralvagonzavod military plant in western Siberia. The journalist denied the accusation and multiple international organizations have spoken out.
It is the first time Russian authorities have detained an American journalist since the end of the Cold War for alleged espionage. Evan Gershkovich, renowned journalist for The Wall Street Journal, was arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) on March 30 in the city of Yekaterinburg, near the military plant Uralvagonzavod.
He had “his hands in the dough”, according to the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov. Since then, US President Joe Biden has demanded his immediate release.
So did the outlet for which Gershkovich works. “His arrest of him should spark outrage among all free people and governments around the world. No reporter should be arrested simply for doing his job,” said ‘The Journal’. Gershkovich also He has been linked to different media such as the Moscow Times and AFP.
International organizations specialized in press freedom such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounce that the treatment of the 31-year-old American journalist by the Russian authorities has been arbitrary.
First, because Gershkovich was transferred directly to Moscow from Yekaterinburg as soon as he was arrested for no apparent reason. Second, because his lawyer affirms that the journalist has been isolated and deprived of his defense rights.
“The detention of Evan Gershkovich clearly amounts to an institutional hostage-taking. The Russian authorities are displaying marked bad faith, otherwise they would respect his rights of defense. We know that this government is creative when it comes to manipulation, especially with regard to journalists,” said Cristóbal Deloire, RSF Secretary General.
Why is Evan Gershkovich accused of espionage?
The TASS news agency reported that Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators had formally accused Gershkovich of conducting espionage in the interests of the United States, but that Gershkovich had denied the charge.
“He categorically denied all the accusations and claimed that he was involved in journalistic activities in Russia,” TASS reported, citing Russian authorities.
Gershkovich went to Nizhny Tagil—an industrial city in western Siberia—where the military plant is located. Uralvagonzavoda, a tank manufacturing complex during World War II that has been producing Т-90 vehicles since the 1990s.
The FSB said Gershkovich went there to collect information on “the Russian military complex that constitutes a state secret.” However, RSF assures that the actions of the American journalist are not conclusive to accuse him of espionage.
After the imputation of charges for the crime of espionage, Gershkovich must go to trial on April 18 to determine his guilt. If found guilty, the journalist could face up to 20 years in prison, under Russian law.
Analysts consulted by RSF believe that the Russian authorities see Gershkovich as a possible bargaining chip in negotiations for the release of a Russian spy. It would be Sergey Cherkasov, an alleged Russian intelligence officer recently accused in the United States of trying to infiltrate the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Deterioration of press freedom in Russia
Russia ranks 155 out of 180 countries in respect of press freedom, according to RSF. She dropped five places after the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The international organization points out that since February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared “foreign agents”. Currently, there are 21 journalists imprisoned in Russia.
There are several examples of media censorship. One is the Russian version of the international news network Euronews, which was suspended by Roskomnadzor —the media regulator— on March 22, 2022. Other European networks such as Deutsche Welle or the BBC suffered a similar fate, as did some US media.
The control of information in the largest country in the world is authoritarian, according to human rights organizations. And despite the fact that the rate of Internet connection is very high, almost two thirds of Russians get their news mainly from television, which is controlled by the government, and from Russian social networks such as VKontakte.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Russian media such as RT or Sputnik have also been censored in the West.
With Reuters, AP and local media