US journalist Evan Gershkovich marks 1 year in Russia as courts keep extending his time behind bars

ByJennifer Hansler, CNN
Friday, March 29, 2024
Evan Gershkovich marks 1 year behind bars in Russia
Evan Gershkovich marks 1 year behind bars in Russia

American journalist Evan Gershkovich marked the grim milestone of one year in Russian detention on Friday as US efforts have yet to secure his release.

"This has been a really difficult year for our family," Gershkovich's sister, Danielle Gershkovich, said at an event last week. "It's just a lot of uncertainty and we just have to take it day by day."

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, and shortly thereafter was charged with espionage - an accusation thoroughly denied by Gershkovich, the US government and his employer. Gershkovich is the first journalist to be arrested on such charges since the Cold War, and the Russian government has yet to provide any evidence to support its claim.

SEE ALSO: Evan Gershkovich's parents speak out nearly 1 year after American journalist detained by Russia

Less than two weeks after his arrest, Gershkovich was designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department, which called for his immediate release.

In the year since, the 32-year-old journalist has been imprisoned in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo Prison. He has yet to face trial, and his pre-trial detention was again extended on Tuesday until June 30.

"This verdict to further prolong Evan's detention feels particularly painful, as this week marks one year since Evan was arrested and wrongfully detained," US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said Tuesday.

"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," she said. "Evan has displayed remarkable resilience and strength in the face of this grim situation. But it is time for the Russian government to let Evan go."

In the past several years, Russia has detained a number of other Americans. Ex-Marine Paul Whelan was arrested in Russia in 2018 and is also designated as wrongfully detained. Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was detained in June 2023, Russian-American ballerina Ksenia Karelina was arrested in January, and American teacher Marc Fogel was arrested in August 2021.

US special presidential envoy for hostage affairs Roger Carstens said Thursday that he hoped that the Russian government had extended Gershkovich's pre-trial detention "so that we have another 90-day period to seek ways to come up with a deal to bring both Evan and Paul Whelan home," noting that once the case goes to trial, it could be harder to reach a deal.

"Once a trial starts in Russia, the Russians will usually follow through," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour. "And so if the trial process starts with Evan, that might take us into about a seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-month period where we may have a harder time trying to come up with a deal and make a deal to bring him home."

SEE ALSO: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's detention in Russia extended to June 30

"To my mind, I'm hopeful that the Russians are thinking that in the next 90 days, they can work with us to come up with that deal that brings them home before the trial actually starts, but it's hard to get into their heads on this," Carstens added.

In December, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the US had "in recent weeks" put forward to Russia "a new and significant proposal to secure Paul and Evan's release," but that Moscow rejected it. US officials have declined to discuss the details of the proposal, but have repeatedly said that bringing Gershkovich home is something they are continuously working on.

'The world needs him back'

Gershkovich had lived and worked in Russia for years prior to his arrest. In an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this week, Danielle Gershkovich wrote that reporting was her brother's "dream job, and he was accredited by the Russian foreign ministry to do it."

"I think of him now, sitting in Lefortovo prison in Moscow, unable to do what he loves. My heart aches for him, an eternally curious, adventurous, and driven person now cut off from the world, from friends and family, missing precious time," she wrote.

Throughout his ordeal, Gershkovich has been able to maintain his strength and a sense of humor, she wrote.

"But even a resilient person like him can't maintain this state indefinitely. The urgency to get him back increases every day. We will continue to fight every single day to get him home as soon as possible," Danielle Gershkovich wrote. "His family needs him home, his friends need him home, and the world needs him back doing the work he so loves."

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