Evan Gershkovich’s arrest means no journalist can feel safe in Russia today

By | March 30, 2023

The Moscow Times reports:

Russia on Thursday arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in a major escalation of the Kremlin’s wartime crackdown on independent journalism.

After being detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, Gershkovich was formally arrested by a Moscow court in a hearing held behind closed doors.

Russia’s State Security Service (FSB) alleged that Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, was involved in the collection of “secret information” about a Russian defense company, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

The allegations of spying against Gershkovich — the first against a foreign journalist since the end of the Cold War — look set to send a fresh chill through Russia’s already devastated media space and could lead to other foreign media outlets pulling journalists out of the country. [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Media-freedom advocacy groups criticized Mr. Gershkovich’s detention, which is the first of a foreign journalist since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, according to Reporters Without Borders. The France-based group is “alarmed by what looks like retaliation against journalists,” said RSF spokeswoman Pauline Ades-Mevel. “Journalists must not be targeted, even if unfortunately they have been regularly since the invasion.”

Mr. Gershkovich is the first U.S. journalist detained on espionage charges in Russia that the Committee to Protect Journalists has documented since the 1986 detention of Nicholas Daniloff. “CPJ is deeply concerned by the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. This is the latest in a long line of attempts by Russia to use national security laws to silence reporting. We urge his immediate release,” said CPJ President Jodie Ginsberg.

According to CPJ, 363 journalists were imprisoned around the world as of December, including 199 held on allegations of “antistate” activities. Wall Street Journal reporters have been detained in other countries but rarely if ever formally arrested. [Continue reading…]

Andrei Soldatov writes:

Foreign correspondents in Russia have been forced to develop a very sophisticated early warning system for danger in the two decades since Vladimir Putin came to power. In a country where the letter of the law matters only when someone powerful decides to use it, this mechanism has been the only way most journalists have been able to continue operating safely inside the country.

Under Putin, Russia very rapidly reverted to the tried and tested methods employed by police states for dealing with foreign journalists, namely threatening to withhold visas, and thus access to the country, as leverage in an attempt to coerce them to provide more positive coverage.

Even as early as 2002, when Putin had only been in power for two years, 31 foreign journalists had their press passes revoked for alleged “illegal journalistic activity,” 18 of whom were subsequently refused re-entry to Russia and had their Russian visa applications rejected.

The early warning system for journalists involved two key institutions: the Foreign Ministry and Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson. The FSB also played a role in the Kremlin’s cat-and-mouse game with foreign journalists as it was the agency’s counterintelligence department that formally revoked press visas. It also fell to the FSB to look out for any “missteps” by foreign correspondents (entering one of Russia’s many “prohibited zones” was always the transgression most beloved by the Chekists) and then to use those mistakes to approach and recruit. [Continue reading…]