US journalist Gershkovich arrested in Russia

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been arrested while doing research in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, a key defence industry location. Gershkovich faces charges of espionage and is to be kept in pre-trial detention for two months. Up to now accredited foreign journalists have been less affected by the restrictions on press freedom in the country. Is this changing now?

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Pavel Kanygin (RU) /

His colleagues could also be taken hostage

Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin, who lives in the US, sends out a warning to his Western colleagues in Russia on his Facebook channel:

“The accusations of espionage are absurd and on the same level as the claims that 'NATO was planning to attack us'. This is simply nonsense. ... Most likely they had had him in their sights for some time ... Evan's arrest is probably simply a cynical replenishing of the 'exchange fund': a foreigner is taken hostage so they can be exchanged for someone the Kremlin wants back. There are still many Western journalists who are accredited in Russia. Evan's case increases the risk for all of them.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Free speech as the biggest danger

Working in Russia will be even more difficult for foreign media after this incident, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung fears:

“Since last March, a censorship law which makes it a punishable offence even to call the war a war has been hanging over correspondents like a sword of Damocles. ... Now the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry says that not only Gershkovich but also other correspondents have abused their status for espionage purposes. Unfortunately, it is to be feared that what she is really referring to is normal research, because there is nothing the Kremlin fears more than free speech.”

Nikolai Mitrochin (RU) /

Disproportionate risk-taking

Political scientist Nikolai Mitrokhin criticises Gershkovich on Facebook:

“How out of touch with reality and conceited do you have to be to go to one of the most repressive cities in a blatantly anti-American country which, on top of that, is at war, a brutal dictatorship with what amounts to terrorist legislation hot off the press, and start questioning soldiers and mercenaries all on your own? And with the FSB breathing down your neck. ... Now the US will have to give up a real Russian spy in exchange for his release. And it has already announced the evacuation of all the remaining US citizens for whom he set a trap with this stupid move. ... Also when it comes to gathering information, the question is always whether the result is commensurate to the price.”