Russia: Gershkovich’s arbitrary detention is an attack against independent journalism, say UN experts
17 July 2023
GENEVA (17 July 2023) – UN experts* today called for the immediate release of Mr Evan Gershkovich, a journalist who was arbitrarily arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service on 29 March 2023 and has since been held for over 100 days in pre-trial detention at Lefortovo prison in Moscow.
“The arrest and indictment of Mr Gershkovich on serious criminal charges which could lead to 20 years in a penal colony is an example of the severe clamp down on freedom of opinion and expression and on independent journalism in Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine 17 months ago,” the experts said.
The 31-year-old journalist and United States citizen has worked for various media outlets before moving to Russia in 2017 to work as a Russia-accredited journalist. For the past year, he has worked as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, reporting on issues such as mobilisation, sanctions and their impact on the economy and people, Russia’s growing isolation, and the Government’s attempts to silence anti-war activism.
Mr Gershkovich was arrested on charges of espionage while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg, accused of acting on orders from the United States to gather information constituting “state secrets”. The prosecution has not publicly presented any evidence to date to substantiate this serious allegation.
“This is the first time since the Soviet era that the Russian authorities have accused a US journalist of espionage and it sends a chilling message to all foreign journalists, and indeed to all journalists in Russia,” said the experts.
“Gershkovich’s arrest highlights the recent uptick in the use of the espionage and treason provisions of the Russian Federation Criminal Code to more frequently arrest individuals in Russia and we are alarmed by this growing trend,” the experts said. “It is a dangerous instrument given the gravity of the charges and the difficulty of public scrutiny in such cases.”
According to available data, 16 people were convicted on similar charges in 2022, and at least 24 criminal proceedings were initiated in the same year. At the end of June, it was also reported that, in the first six months of 2023, at least 43 people had been charged with treason in Russia.
Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.