On the first anniversary of Evan Gershkovich’s arrest, Biden says his detention will ‘cost’ Russia
US journalist Evan Gershkovich stands inside a defendants’ cage at Moscow City Court on June 22, 2023.
(Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP via Getty Images)

By Ron Kampeas
March 29, 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden said the United States would continue to “impose costs” on Russia for its imprisonment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested one year ago.

The Journal marked the March 29 anniversary by leaving most of its front page empty below a headline reading, “HIS STORY SHOULD BE HERE.” Every other article and headline on the front page involved Gershkovich.

“Today we mark a painful anniversary: one year of American journalist Evan Gershkovich’s wrongful detention in Russia,” Biden said in a statement.

“As I have told Evan’s parents, I will never give up hope either,” he said. “We will continue working every day to secure his release. We will continue to denounce and impose costs for Russia’s appalling attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips.”

Gershkovich, the 32-year-old American son of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, has been held on espionage charges since March 29, 2023, when he was arrested by Russian agents while on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg. Gershkovich, the United States government, and the Wall Street Journal deny the allegations, for which the Russian government has not provided evidence. His arrest came amid an ongoing crackdown on the press in Russia during its war on Ukraine.

On Jan. 30, a Moscow court extended his detention through Saturday. Gershkovich has yet to be tried. If he is convicted, he could face up to 20 years in a penal colony.

Biden imposed sanctions on Russia’s internal security service, the FSB, about a month after Gershkovich was detained and has imposed multiple sanctions since then related to the Ukraine war and other malfeasance by the Putin regime. Both Russia and the United States have floated the possibility of a prisoner exchange, though a deal has yet to materialize.

Jewish organizations and activists have taken up Gershkovich’s cause, at times employing Jewish ritual to call for his release in ways that echo the Soviet Jewry movement of decades ago. Last Passover, seder tables around the world included an empty seat to symbolize his imprisonment, and Jewish federations spearheaded a campaign last year to send him letters ahead of Rosh Hashanah.

In the Journal, A four page section was dedicated entirely to Gershkovich, as were in-house advertisements elsewhere in the newspaper. “This story cannot be written,” said an ad taking up a quarter of page A7.

Also calling for Gershkovich’s release was a rare bipartisan statement from Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Forty-five years ago, Evan’s parents, Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich, found refuge in the United States after fleeing the Soviet Union,” said the statement issued in the name of House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat who is Jewish, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. “Today, Putin is restoring Soviet-style control through repression at home and aggression abroad.”

Their statement singled out press freedoms.

“On the anniversary of Evan Gershkovich’s captivity, we reaffirm the importance of his work,” it said. “Journalism is not a crime, and reporters are not bargaining chips. The Kremlin’s attempts to silence Evan and intimidate other Western reporters will not impede the pursuit of truth.”

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