Mar 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Evan Gershkovich has spent a year in a Russian prison


U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended pre-trial detention at the Moscow City Court in Moscow last September. Photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's wrongful detainment by Russian authorities.

Why it matters: Gershkovich is the first U.S. journalist to be arrested and held on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War.

  • The 32-year-old U.S. citizen was arrested on March 29, 2023 for espionage charges that both he and The Journal vehemently deny.
  • His arrest has sparked among press freedom activists who worry Russia is using his detainment as a bargaining chip with the U.S. over its war with Ukraine.

Driving the news: Gershkovich appeared in the Moscow City Court Friday morning. His pre-trial detention was extended this week for the fifth time, until at least June 30.

The big picture: In addition to The Kremlin's punitive fake news law passed soon after Russia invaded Ukraine, Gershkovich's imprisonment has made it much harder for the Western press to cover the war from Russia on the ground.

State of play: In designating Gershkovich as wrongfully detained, the U.S. government was able to transfer his case to a special division within the State Department that provides more resources for hostage negotiations.

  • The government has been negotiating with Russia to get Gershkovich out via a prisoner swap.
  • But efforts to release him and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is also being held on espionage charges, have come up short. The U.S. has successfully negotiated prison swaps with Russia for former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed and WNBA Brittney Griner in recent years.

Between the lines: Drumming up media attention has been critical in ensuring Gershkovich's release remains a priority for the government, WSJ editor Paul Beckett, said last month during a news conference.

  • "If he's forgotten — if he slips down the priority list — then the vital things that do need to happen to bring them home won't happen," said Beckett, who's focusing on Gershkovich's full time.
  • He also said The Journal has been working hard to support Gershkovich and his family with a slew of logistical challenges, such as making sure his bank and email accounts don't shutter while he's in prison.

What to watch: Press freedom activists are demanding more action from the U.S. government.

  • The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Russian and Iranian groups last year in an attempt to secure the release of hostages in those countries.

What's next: The Journal has assembled a slew of programs to call attention to Gershkovich's case this weekend, including a global run across 12 cities, a 24-hour read-a-thon, social media blitz and more.

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