Russia must face consequences for imprisonment of Wall Street Journal reporter, lawyer says

A lawyer for The Wall Street Journal says Russia must face consequences for its detention of Evan Gershkovich, one of the newspaper's reporters

Eric Tucker
Thursday 21 March 2024 17:58 GMT

Russia must face consequences for its detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a lawyer for the newspaper said Thursday as the journalist approaches the one-year anniversary of his arrest.

“In a scenario like this, where a reporter is taken off the beat for just doing his job — wrongfully detained — there ought to be immediate consequences from the government,” said Jason Conti, general counsel at Dow Jones, which publishes the newspaper. He was speaking at a National Press Club event in Washington.

Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023, on espionage charges, which he and the newspaper deny, while on a reporting trip to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. The U.S. government has designated him as wrongfully detained and Russian authorities have detailed no evidence to support the charges.

He was visited in jail on Thursday by U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, according to the American embassy in Russia, which said in a social media post that “Evan remains strong and resilient, but it is a tragedy he awaits a trial for a crime he did not commit.”

A court in Moscow last month extended Gershkovich's detention until the end of this month, though the most realistic prospect for his release appears to be through the same sort of prisoner swap that has freed other Americans jailed in Russia, including WNBA star Brittney Griner and Marine veteran Trevor Reed.

In December, the U.S. State Department said that Russia had rejected several proposals for freeing Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan who has been jailed in Russia since his December 2018 arrest on espionage-related charges that both he and the U.S. government dispute. Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in prison.

More recently, allies of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny have said that talks with Russian and Western officials about a prisoner swap were underway just days before the Kremlin critic’s sudden and unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

Conti, the newspaper's lawyer, did not discuss those negotiations during the Thursday appearance but said, “We follow every development that happens in Russia. They all have an impact.”

He said there had been “a lot of activity” and dialogue aimed at securing Gershkovich's release, but in the meantime, the U.S. government should impose consequences — including possibly sanctions — over the reporter's arrest.

“If you think about what are the consequences of what's happened so far — a great reporter is sitting in prison, a number of Western journalists have pulled out of Russia, it's much harder to cover the story from the ground — and, eventually, if you believe the playbook on these things, Russia will get a bad guy back,” Conti said.

“What is the disincentive to do this again? Why wouldn't you continue to take hostages of good reporters if you are an authoritarian country or a wannabe authoritarian country,” he added.

The U.S. has already piled on sanctions against Russia in the two years since the war against Ukraine. It's not clear what additional sanctions could be used to punish Moscow over Gershkovich's arrest.

Also at the event was Gershkovich's sister, Danielle, who said she regularly communicates with her brothers through letters.

“We tend to keep it light in our letters. We're just mainly trying to support one other and make each other laugh,” she said.

For International Women's Day, he arranged for his sister and his mother to get flowers.

“He's always thinking about us, worrying about us — that's his biggest concern,” Danielle Gershkovich said. “And we're concerned about him.”

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