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Why Russia Arrested Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich on Espionage Charges

Russia’s security service, the FSB, on Wednesday arrested Evan Gershkovich, an American Wall Street Journal reporter, on espionage charges. Gershkovich had extensively reported on Russia, including on the deterioration of the country’s economy.

Press freedom is tightly restricted in Russia, and it has become even more controlled in the last year as the government has imposed new laws intended to limit reporting on the war, including a law prohibiting reporting that contradicts the government’s narrative on the conflict. Prosecutors have opened cases against dozens of Russian journalists. However, the arrest of an accredited foreign correspondent with a major U.S. news outlet appears to be a step toward even great repression.

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Many western outlets pulled some or all of their journalists out of Moscow as a result of the rising tensions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year.

Who is Evan Gershkovich?

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen, is a reporter based in the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau. Gershkovich had worked as a reporter in Russia since 2017, and joined the publication in January 2022, per the Journal, after reporting for the Moscow Times, Agence France-Presse, and the New York Times. In the most recent story he published, he wrote about the effects of sanctions on the Russian economy.

Gershkovich was arrested on Wednesday in Yekaterinburg, which is north of Kazakhstan, on a reporting trip, the Journal reported. Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that Gershkovich was reporting on Russian attitudes about the private military company Wagner Group.

Why was Evan Gershkovich arrested?

The FSB said in a statement that Gershkovich is “suspected of spying in the interests of the American government,” and that its investigative department has initiated an espionage criminal case against him.

“It was established that E. Gershkovich, acting on the assignment of the American side, collected information constituting a government secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” the statement said.

The Russian news agency TASS reported that Gershkovich pleaded not guilty at a court in Moscow.

“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 newspaper said in a statement. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

How is the world reacting?

The arrest was widely condemned by his fellow journalists and organizations supporting press freedom, who called for his release.

“We are deeply concerned over Russia’s widely-reported detention of a U.S. citizen journalist. We are in contact with the Wall Street Journal on this situation. Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained abroad, we immediately seek consular access, and seek to provide all appropriate support,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices.”

“Arresting a foreign journalist on espionage charges is a serious escalation of Russia’s attacks on journalism,” said Scott Griffen, the deputy director of the International Press Institute in a statement. “It underscores the depth of Russia’s effort to silence coverage of Putin’s war on Ukraine, which has already led to a serious crackdown on Russian journalists. Now, that dragnet appears to be expanding further.”

Pauline Ades-Mevel, a spokesperson for Reporters Without Borders, told the Journal that the group is “alarmed by what looks like retaliation against journalists.”

“Journalists must not be targeted, even if unfortunately they have been regularly since the invasion,” she said.

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