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American reporter Evan Gershkovich marks one year in Russian jail

Scripps News spoke with one of Gershkovich's colleagues at the Wall Street Journal whose full-time job now is to work on getting him home.
American reporter Evan Gershkovich marks one year in Russian jail
Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 28, 2024

In the Washington, D.C. bureau of the Wall Street Journal, the face and name of their reporter imprisoned nearly 5,000 miles away — is everywhere.

"We have found over the last year that we know he's a great reporter. We've also discovered he's an extraordinary young man," said Paul Beckett, the Wall Street Journal's assistant editor.

That is Beckett's official title — but his real job, since the day they learned Russia had arrested Evan Gershkovich, is to get the newspaper's reporter home. 

"I was the person that our editor-in-chief called when he went missing," said Beckett, who was the Washington Bureau Chief at the time. "So, I was the one that went to the National Security Council and the State Department and the Pentagon and the White House and said, 'You have to pay attention to this, please. We're going to need your help because we can't find our guy.' So, since then, it's just become more and more of my job — and now it's full-time."

It is full-time work that is now headed into a second year. 

In March of 2023, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was working as an accredited journalist in Russia. While on a reporting trip in the country, Russian authorities arrested him and accused of espionage. It's a charge that he, the Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government deny.

The U.S. State Department considers him to be "wrongfully detained."

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has appeared in a Russian courtroom at least a dozen times. The most recent appearance happened this past Tuesday, when a judge once again extended the American journalist's detention until the end of June.

After the hearing in Moscow, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia expressed her frustration.

"Evan's case is not about evidence, due process or rule of law," said Lynne Tracy, U.S. Ambassador to Russia. "It is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends, as the Kremlin is also doing in the case of Paul."

SEE MORE: Russia extends arrest of US reporter Evan Gershkovich

Paul Whelan is another American, and a former U.S. Marine, also wrongfully detained in Russia. He has been held behind bars there for 5 years.

One effort to free Gershkovich and Whelan reportedly involved a complex prisoner exchange for Vadim Krasikov — a Russian security services agent who was convicted in Germany of a political assassination in 2021.

However, Germany was reportedly only willing to release Krasikov if Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny were also included in the exchange — and Navalny's recent death appears to have stalled any such deal.

But Beckett, who is following Evan Gershkovich's case every day, remains hopeful.

"The Wall Street Journal will not solve this — that's going to be a government-to-government negotiation at some point, hopefully soon. What is, I think, really important, is for people to just think about Evan, talk about him," Beckett said. "And I think the more awareness we can create around that, the easier those negotiations will be when the right time comes."

Until then, Gershkovich's colleagues try to support him from afar, by writing messages of hope on a newsroom banner calling for his release and hosting a 24-hour "Read-a-thon" of his stories to mark his one year behind bars. 

"What the world has missed from Evan is a huge amount of reporting on a country that matters an enormous amount to the United States and to the West. What Evan has missed — he has missed the job that he loves. He's missed the family that he loves. He missed the friends that he loves," Beckett said. "It's time for him to come back."

Gershkovich spends 23 hours a day in his small cell. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 30, but as seen multiple times before, Russia keeps extending his detention, with no trial date ever set.

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