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American journalist Evan Gershkovich marks one year in Russian prison, why is he not a top priority for Washington? (Op-Ed)

Friday marks one year since Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained by Russian security forces on spying allegations. This was the first such detention of an American journalist on espionage charges in Russia since the tail end of the Cold War. The Biden administration has said that bringing Gershkovich home safely is a top priority, yet he has been imprisoned for a year.

The Journal observed this depressing anniversary with an #IStandWithEvan tribute whilst family, friends, and other journalists gathered to read all his articles in a marathon. Gershkovich has been widely praised for his poignant vignettes that highlight his deep knowledge of Russian culture and history. Gershkovich, 32, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was born and raised in New Jersey and had grown up in a dual-language household. He grew up with Russian books, cartoons, and pop culture.

While on assignment in Yekaterinburg last March, he was detained quickly. Witnesses state that they saw him marched off to an unmarked van. He was then placed in front of a Moscow court and charged with trying to obtain state secrets, a crime punishable by 20 years in prison. They provided no evidence of any wrongdoing, which makes Gershkovich a hostage in the eyes of the United States.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said “Evan’s case is not about evidence, due process, or rule of law. It is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends,” in a statement. Russsian President Vladimir Putin is open to a swap if the conditions are right.

If Gershkovich is a top priority for Washington, why is he still imprisoned? The Biden administration has had a year to negotiate his release, yet no such deal has been reached. This is incredibly disheartening, as the conditions in Russian prisons are mentally and physically taxing. As a country that values free speech, returning an American journalist to his country should be more than a “top priority” that seems to be completely ignored. While the relationship between Russia and the U.S. is tenuous at best, negotiations must be made to protect journalists.


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