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Our View: Demand release of WSJ reporter wrongly imprisoned 1 year

Being soft on Putin counters cause to free Gershkovich

One year ago today, the nightmare of incarceration in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison began for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. On Tuesday, after his pretrial detention was extended for a fifth time until June 30, concerns for Gershkovich have shifted from hopes for his immediate release to how long Vladimir Putin will play out this hostage situation.

Gershkovich, accused of spying, is a pawn in the broader story of Putin’s crackdown on independent Russian news outlets. But Gershkovich’s detention has transformed into something else. He’s become a character in the story of the rotting relationship between Moscow and Washington over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mike Johnson sits on a Ukraine funding package for ammunition and weaponry, playing both political sides by publicly aligning with far-right Republicans who anointed him as speaker and, privately, signaling he’ll request approval.

Winking in Putin’s direction, we have Donald Trump worsening the situation with anti-press sentiment, as some of Trump’s supporters have come to empathize with Putin about Ukraine.

For Gershkovich, he’s the first American journalist arrested on an espionage charge since the end of the Cold War. Russia has never presented evidence to support its claims and Gershkovich was accredited – by Russia – as a journalist.

What is Gershkovich, 32, thinking as winter lingers, his skin becomes more pale and, despite demands from the Biden administration for his release, he remains in a Russian prison cell?

In the U.S. with our free press, as long as we’re not acting maliciously, we’re protected from frivolous lawsuits and charges, and can do our jobs. We can call Putin what he is – a thug.

Any praise of Putin is a kick in the ribs to Gershkovich, who was only detained because he was doing what he was trained to do – cover the news in Russia for the American public.

This Russian-speaking foreign correspondent is missing a vibrant chapter in his life, a time to reach and realize dreams, grow as a professional and as a human being. Travel and learn who he is.

Gershkovich is not able to do the gritty, everyday story gathering critical to contribute to our bank of global information. Especially, we need his work to inform those soft on Putin and, however subtle, highlight the realities of living under authoritarian rule.

Like the rest of us meeting deadlines, we imagine parts of Gershkovich’s work were imperfect. Some questioned his choice to stick around after the invasion of Ukraine. But because of reporters like Gershkovich, we had a better understanding of what was happening in Russia.

Under Putin, informing the public – whether it’s Russian or American citizens – is enough to be a threat of spending 20 years in a notorious prison.

As Gershkovich waits, worries and misses his family and friends, we have less and less reliable, credible information about what’s going on now in Russia.

Based on stories he produced and how he’s managing distress, Gershkovich is courageous. We join our colleagues in the media as well as people throughout the world, in demanding the release of Evan Gershkovich.