Russia: Rights experts condemn continued imprisonment of Evan Gershkovich

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Russia: Rights experts condemn continued imprisonment of Evan Gershkovich

The 32-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested last March in Yekatarinburg on espionage charges and is being held at the infamous Lefortovo prison in Moscow. 

Mariana Katzarova, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, and Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, condemned his continued arbitrary detention.

“Russian authorities have yet to provide any credible evidence to substantiate the egregious espionage claims against Gershkovich,” they said in a statement.

Targeting independent voices 

On Tuesday, the Moscow City Court extended his detention for another three months, until June.

“This fits a well-documented pattern of Russian authorities using politically motivated administrative and criminal charges that allow for multiple renewals of pre-trial detention, targeting dissidents and independent voices opposed to Russia’s war on Ukraine,” they said.

The experts voiced deep concern that Mr. Gershkovich has not been brought to trial even after a year, a situation which “raises serious concerns about the presumption of innocence and the overall fairness of the legal process.”

‘A disturbing trend’ 

They stressed that anyone arrested or detained on criminal charges must be brought promptly before a judge and tried within a reasonable time, or released. 

“Gershkovich’s arrest is indicative of a disturbing trend in Russia, which has seen an unprecedented increase in the number of journalists—both Russian and foreign citizens—imprisoned for their work,” they charged. 

They noted that since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the number of imprisoned journalists in Russia has reached an all-time high, underlining the Government’s intention to control the narrative both domestically and internationally. 

Furthermore, 12 of the 17 foreign-national journalists detained worldwide are being detained in Russia, according to recent reports. 

Appeal for international support 

Mr. Gershkovich’s detention is emblematic of the general crackdown on free speech and journalism in Russia, particularly in relation to independent reporting on the war against Ukraine, they said.

“As journalists face imprisonment and threats, public access to independent and critical information has diminished,” they added. “We urge the international community to support independent journalists who courageously carry out their work both in Russia and from abroad.”

At least 30 journalists are known to be detained and facing lengthy prison sentences, they continued, including on spurious charges of so-called crimes such as “disseminating false information” and “discrediting” the actions of the Russian armed forces.

Release all journalists 

Another journalist with US citizenship, Alsu Kurmasheva, has also been arbitrarily detained in Russia since 18 October.

Ms. Kurmasheva, who worked for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, is accused of violating the provisions of the Russian law on “foreign agents” and may face additional charges. 

“Gershkovich, Kurmasheva and all other journalists imprisoned for reporting from Russia must be released immediately and unconditionally,” the experts said, strongly condemning flagrant violations of international human rights obligations by Russian authorities.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

The experts 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. 

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