UN Experts Call on Russia to Release US Journalist

United Nations experts on human rights and media freedom have called on Russian authorities to immediately release American journalist Evan Gershkovich and expressed concern over the escalating number of treason and espionage arrests in Russia since the country invaded Ukraine last year.

Evan Gershkovich TwitterEvan Gershkovich (R), the Wall Street Journal reporter. (Photo: Evan Gershkovic/Twitter, License)The Russian Federal Security Service arbitrarily arrested Gershkovich on March 29, 2023, and has held him in pre-trial detention at Lefortovo prison in Moscow for more than 100 days. He is accused of gathering "state secrets" on behalf of the United States while reporting from the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

The UN noted that the prosecution has never publicly presented any evidence to substantiate this severe claim, and Gershkovich's detention appeal was denied.

According to the statement, despite several requests from the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Gershkovich has only been granted two consular visits to date.

"The arrest and indictment of Gershkovich on serious criminal charges, which could lead to 20 years in a penal colony, is an example of the severe clampdown on freedom of opinion and expression and on independent journalism in Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine 17 months ago," said Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

They filed an appeal against Gershkovich's arbitrary detention with Russian authorities on June 12 and demanded his immediate release, but no answer has been received so far, read the statement.

Katzarova and Khan stressed that Gershkovich's arrest is actually the first time that Russian authorities have charged a U.S. journalist with espionage since the Soviet era, sending a "chilling message to all foreign journalists, and indeed to all journalists in Russia."

"Gershkovich's arrest highlights the recent uptick in the use of the espionage and treason provisions of the Russian Federation Criminal Code to more frequently arrest individuals in Russia, and we are alarmed by this growing trend," they said.

Citing available data, the UN warned that 16 people were convicted on similar charges in 2022, and at least 24 criminal proceedings were initiated in the same year. Recent reports claimed that at least 43 people were charged with treason in Russia in the first six months of 2023.

Evan Gershkovich, 31, has worked for a variety of media outlets before moving to Russia in 2017 to work as a Russia-accredited journalist. For the past year, he has been a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, reporting on issues such as mobilization, sanctions and their impact on the economy and people, Russia's growing isolation, and the government's efforts to silence anti-war activism.