The charges against the Wall Street Journal reporter are a chilling and unprecedented move
The Biden administration’s designation of the American reporter Evan Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” by Russia is not merely a statement of the obvious, but unlocks additional resources to secure his release and shows that the US is rightly prioritising his case. Gershkovich, of the Wall Street Journal, was detained on 29 March on a reporting trip to Ekaterinburg, and was formally charged last Friday. The Federal Security Service alleges that he has committed espionage; the rest of the world recognises this as another shocking instance of the state’s pursuit of hostage diplomacy, and an attack on independent journalism.
Unlike the arrest last year of the US basketball player Brittney Griner – detained for possessing a small amount of cannabis oil and ultimately freed in a prisoner swap for the arms dealer Viktor Bout – this case appears not merely opportunistic, but calculated and approved from the top. Gershkovich also faces far more serious charges of espionage. Another US citizen, the former marine Paul Whelan, is serving a 16-year sentence of hard labour on spying charges after he was seized in late 2018; he too has been deemed wrongfully detained.