American journalist Evan Gershkovich has been wrongfully detained by the Russian government on “trumped up” charges, according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Bob Menendez. The charges against Evan carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His detention is seen as a signal of a new reality in Russia, with relations between journalists and the state becoming increasingly fraught. Evan had been reporting from Russia for several years, hoping to capture everyday life in the country as well as stories that explored its politics, culture, and environment.
Evan moved to Russia because he believed it was important to help Americans understand the country as intimately as he did. He was interested in covering topics such as the disappearing languages of Russia and its indigenous cultures, environmental degradation, and dissidents who dared to speak out against the regime. He had been working tirelessly to amass stories that he was proud of before his arrest. His detention is more than just an attack on freedom of the press: it represents the ongoing decline of the old rules and norms in Russia that had allowed foreign journalists to operate to some extent without fear of detention or harm.
Several U.S. senators have demanded Evan’s immediate release, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Mitch McConnell. They argue that Evan is deserving of support from those countries that retain active economic ties with Russia. However, if Evan remains in detention in Russia, it is possible that he could be released in exchange for a prisoner exchange with another country.
Evan and the author of this article met at college and became close friends. Evan’s passion for journalism was evident from an early stage, with him sending drafts of essays and pitches to friends and family for editing and review. Evan’s buoyant personality shone through in messages to friends and family, even when he was under the watchful eye of his prison monitors. His detention is a grave concern for those who knew and respected him as a professional journalist, and a troubling indication of the state of affairs in modern-day Russia.