WSJ reporter arrested – Putin’s assault on free speech continues

Lee Heidhues 3.30.2023

The brazen arrest of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Russia is yet another assault on free speech by Vladimir Putin. It is an act of intimidation and harassment.

An open media is fundamental.

The arrest of Evan Gershkovich for what it described as espionage is an outrage and another sign that the paranoid Vladimir Putin will do everything in his power to stifle free speech and opposition as he continues his war of aggression against Ukraine.

Excerpted from Wall Street Journal 3.23.2023

Russia’s main security agency said Thursday it had detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich for what it described as espionage.  

Mr. Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen and member of the Journal’s Moscow bureau, was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg, around 880 miles east of Moscow, on Wednesday while on a reporting trip.  

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest. “CPJ is deeply concerned by the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. This is the latest in a long line of attempts by Russia to use national security laws to silence reporting. We urge his immediate release,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg.

Russia’s main security agency said Thursday it had detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich for what it described as espionage.  

The Federal Security Bureau said Mr. Gershkovich, “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

Mr. Gershkovich is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s Foreign Ministry.

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the Journal said. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

Authorities took Mr. Gershkovich to Moscow, where he appeared in court with a state-appointed defense attorney and was ordered held in custody until May 29, said the press service of the court, according to state news agency TASS.

Mr. Gershkovich dropped out of contact with his editors while working in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday afternoon. 

A post later appeared on Telegram describing a man with his face hidden being bundled from a restaurant in the city and put into a waiting van. It couldn’t be determined whether the person was Mr. Gershkovich.

A lawyer hired by the Journal attempted to find Mr. Gershkovich at the FSB building in Yekaterinburg, but was told authorities had no information about him. 

7 of 7 | An entrance of the Lefortovo prison, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023. Russia’s top security agency says an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal has been arrested on espionage charges. The Federal Security Service said Thursday that Evan Gershkovich was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Mr. Gershkovich later appeared in Moscow, where he was represented by a court-appointed lawyer.

According to TASS, which cited unnamed sources, Mr. Gershkovich pleaded not guilty at the closed hearing. His case, according to TASS, is considered top secret. 

Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, joined the Journal in January 2022. He has worked as a reporter in Russia since 2017, first for the Moscow Times and then for Agence France-Presse. Earlier, he was a news assistant in New York for the New York Times. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he most recently wrote about the impact of Western sanctions on Russia’s economy

Mr. Gershkovich since joining the Journal has covered a variety of Russia-related topics, including the recent visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow, close associates of Mr. Putin and tensions between Kremlin officials and Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russian paramilitary group Wagner.

Top photoDetained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich