Russia should release Evan Gershkovich; if as part of a prisoner swap it should be speedily concluded.
Gershkovich was arrested in Ekaterinburg while investigating the Wagner Group. Ekaterinburg is one of Russia’s grimmest, most mafia dominated and least open cities, which I have myself visited specifically to investigate the murders of local Russian journalists.
That was dangerous enough without the complications of a war and the fact Gershkovich was planning to visit the location of a nearby tank factory (it is unclear whether he got to carry out this plan).
I am not in the least surprised he was arrested, but I would have hoped he would simply be deported, or have his visa cancelled like Luke Harding. A journalist from a country openly supplying the enemy in an active war could hardly complain if deported. It is part of the game.
Let us not forget that Russia is still allowing western journalists to operate inside Russia, while most countries in the West, including the UK, have closed down all Russian media outlets and canceled the visas of their journalists.
But to charge Gershkovich with espionage for – from what we know so far – simply doing his job, is a major escalation.
I am going to assume Gershkovich was not actually working for the CIA or Ukrainian intelligence. No evidence has so far been produced of this and, so far, I have not seen Russia allege it. If alleged, it would change the game in some respects, but I for now assume that is not in play and Gershkovich was merely functioning as a journalist.
The Biden Administration’s problem is that it is in no position to object. Julian Assange is being charged with espionage solely for journalism: there is no allegation he was working for a foreign power.
If Assange committed espionage against the USA by publishing national security secrets of the United States, how exactly is Gershkovich not committing espionage against Russia by seeking to publish what it deems its national security secrets?
The answer is of course, that neither committed espionage. They are just doing journalism. But it is an answer the Biden administration cannot give whilst pursuing the prosecution of Assange.
I say this with no pleasure and I am as concerned for Gershkovich’s well-being as I am for Assange’s well-being.
But we warned again and again that the prosecution of Assange made life more dangerous for journalists operating in difficult conditions worldwide. We were ignored.
There is, in one sense, more justification for the prosecution of Gershkovich than for that of Assange. At least Gershkovich was actually in Russia when arrested. Assange is an Australian citizen whose activities were conducted entirely outside the USA, and is being extradited on an extraordinary USA claim of universal jurisdiction.
There are voices within the Biden Administration, and within the USA’s major media corporations, who have been pointing out the dangerous precedent that the Assange case creates. Hopefully those voices will be strengthened by the Gershkovich case.
But Gershkovich should be released. Just a young journalist doing his job.
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