Home World A year ago, Russia imprisoned Evan Gershkovich for his journalistic activities. He’s still here | Margaret Sullivan

A year ago, Russia imprisoned Evan Gershkovich for his journalistic activities. He’s still here | Margaret Sullivan

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 A year ago, Russia imprisoned Evan Gershkovich for his journalistic activities. He's still here | Margaret Sullivan

THis photograph, framed and featured, is precious to me. Taken in 2016 outside a Manhattan restaurant, it’s a casual photo of four young people and me, everyone smiling. I was finishing my tenure as editor-in-chief of The New York Times, and each of these talented young journalists – plus one more who was unable to attend the dinner – had been my editorial assistant at some point over a four-year period.

Nearly eight years later, I’ve kept an eye on them. Two of them still work at the Times, having risen through the editorial ranks to become court reporter and book review editor, respectively. One of them recently experienced the joy of the birth of his first child. Another bought a house with her husband after moving to Seattle.

And, tragically, one of them – Evan Gershkovich, now 32 years old – is imprisoned in Russia, absurdly accused of espionage by the Putin regime while he was simply doing his reporting job for the office of Moscow from the Wall Street Journal. Evan, who was arrested a year ago this month, spends his time in a Lefortovo prison cell with little human contact and virtually no mobility.

He is the first American journalist accused of espionage since the Cold War, although Evan is certainly not a spy. The Biden administration has called the accusations ridiculous.

Journalism is not a crime.

To my knowledge, there is no immediate prospect of his release. It is well understood that he is a pawn of Putin, who has suggested that he would trade his freedom for that of a Russian assassin, Vadim Krasikov, imprisoned in Germany.

Meanwhile, Evan’s life continues.

The pain I feel, of course, cannot be compared to that of his parents, his sister and his closest friends, nor to the trials endured by this talented, ethical and charming young journalist.

This personal cost is enormous, but beyond that lies a larger problem: the cost to the free flow of information from and about Russia and to press freedom around the world. These are lofty concepts, but they have real meaning, as two of Evan’s close friends – Guardian journalist Pjotr ​​Sauer and New York Times journalist Anton Troianovski – explained this week when I spoke to each of them by phone.

It is worth noting that, although these friendships arose from their work in jobs similar to those of Moscow-based journalists, none of them remain in Russia today.

“When Evan was arrested, it was a huge shock on a personal level and it was also a journalistic shock,” said Troianovski, who now reports for The Times from a base in Berlin. “We interpreted this as a message that the risks were very serious for reporting on the ground. »

Russia has not been a safe place for journalists for many years; Time magazine reported in a recent cover story on Gershkovich, at least 39 members of the media have been murdered in Russia since 1992. But until Evan’s arrest, accredited American journalists felt relatively safe.

No more. Following Evan’s arrest – as well as other danger signs, such as Vladimir Putin’s harsh censorship laws introduced the previous year – much of the Western media withdrew from their long-running publications. date in Russia.

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Sauer told me he had been able to report on Russia from various locations, including Armenia, Finland and Georgia, but he lamented these necessary limitations.

“There East a way to report on Russia from the outside, but nothing compares to reporting on the ground,” Sauer said. He felt this difference acutely two weeks ago when thousands of Russian demonstrators turned out, under a heavy police presence, to the funeral of Alexei Navalny. The opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, who had been Putin’s harshest critic, died in February in a Siberian penal colony.

“There’s that moment where you’re like, ‘I want to be there,’” Sauer said. And of course, Russia’s coverage from the inside, following its invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, has also been hampered.

This obstruction is intentional. Putin wants her message to dominate, undiluted by Western media. Evan, whose parents emigrated to America from Russia in the late 1970s, speaks Russian fluently. In an article in the New York Times, Troianovski rented Evan’s “commitment to telling the world Russia’s complex story,” chronicling the roots of Putin’s power and the Russian people who challenged their country’s move toward authoritarianism.

As Evan’s journalist friends from the Guardian and the New York Times told me this week, it is crucial not to let him forget as he enters his second year in prison. Please keep this in mind, they ask; and me too.

Say his name, wear his image on a pin or button, post about him with a #FreeEvan or #IStandWithEvan hashtag, mention him to your elected officials. For the sake of the life of a wonderful young man and for the freedom of the press at large, the travesty of Evan’s imprisonment must end.

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