RSF alarmed by US reporter’s arrest in Russia

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Russian authorities to clarify the espionage charges brought against a US reporter for The Wall Street Journal who is facing the possibility of up to 20 years in prison following his arrest yesterday – an arrest that is unprecedented since the Cold War. He must be allowed access to a lawyer and he must be released, RSF says.

A member of The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau, Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg, in western Siberia, where the Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed that he was collecting information about “the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.”

Transferred in record time from Yekaterinburg to Moscow, he was placed in provisional detention by a Moscow court without his lawyer being allowed to talk to him.

“There is no indication that this recognised journalist was doing anything other than legitimate investigative reporting in the field for his news organisation,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We are alarmed by Evan Gershkovich’s arrest, which has the hallmarks of a ‘retaliatory’ act by Russia against the United States and, at the same time, a reflection of the Kremlin's desire to intimidate Western journalists in Russia. We call on the Russian authorities to provide precise information about these serious charges, to allow this journalist access to his lawyer and to release him so that he can prepare his defence.

Aged 31 and based in Moscow for the past six years, Gershkovich had gone to Nizhny Tagil, an industrial city known for its weapons factories that is 140 km north of Yekaterinburg, according to the independent news website Mediazona. His fixer and the local newspaper Vechernye Vedomosti said he had been investigating the methods used by the privately-owned military company Wagner for recruiting members of the local population.

His arrest comes against a backdrop of extreme tension between the United States and Russia because of the war in Ukraine, and the almost total control over news and information within Russia that the Kremlin has been exercising since the start of the war. 

The most recent previous case of a US journalist being arrested – wrongly – for spying in Russia was Nick Daniloff’s arrest in 1986

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