Jailed in Putin’s Russia for Speaking the Truth

The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented that at least 320 members of the press were behind bars around the globe as 2024 began. In Vladimir Putin’s police state, at least 22 journalists are jailed, most for committing that most elemental of journalistic duties, speaking the truth. Two of them are American reporters. One of them, Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, will soon mark a year in the infamous Lefortovo prison, awaiting trial on charges of espionage. The other, Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was arrested while visiting her mother and has been in detention since October.

The charges against both are a travesty. Their incarceration is a violation of their rights and an assault on foreign journalists that is even more egregious than what transpired under Soviet rule. The Biden administration should continue to do all in its power to secure their freedom.

Mr. Gershkovich, now 32, is not a spy, and his accusers know it. He is a reporter, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal who worked in Moscow with official accreditation from the Russian government until he was taken prisoner by a secretive police unit in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023.

The reason for the arrest may be known only to Mr. Putin. Perhaps it was to send a signal that foreign correspondents are no safer from the reach of the Kremlin’s police than Russian reporters. For some time now, and especially since the invasion of Ukraine two years ago, the Kremlin under Mr. Putin has dealt ruthlessly with any opposition, as demonstrated most starkly by the sudden death last month of Aleksei Navalny, Mr. Putin’s most prominent opponent.

Perhaps Mr. Gershkovich was seized as a pawn to swap for Russians held in the West, as the American basketball player Brittney Griner was in 2022. Perhaps it was because Mr. Gershkovich’s parents are Russian Jews who emigrated in the 1970s, so Mr. Putin views him, as he views Ukraine, as within his sphere of repression.

As the first anniversary of Mr. Gershkovich’s incarceration approaches, there is no evidence of a potential trade, though Mr. Putin did suggest last month that it could happen. And there is no indication that a trial is imminent. Instead, Mr. Gershkovich will soon have spent a year at Lefortovo, which was built in the 19th century and was notorious in the Soviet era as an interrogation center for political prisoners, who are typically held in solitary confinement. Human contact is strictly limited: Only lawyers are usually allowed to visit.

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