UN Urged to Declare Wall Street Journalist’s Arrest by Russia as Arbitrary Detention

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On Tuesday, legal representation for Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich appealed to a United Nations entity, imploring them to swiftly declare his client’s arrest by Russia as an arbitrary detention. They firmly asserted that the espionage accusations Gershkovich faces are blatantly false.

Appearing before the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the seasoned lawyers insisted that, despite Gershkovich’s arrest on the 29th of March on a reporting trip in the distant city of Yekaterinburg, not one iota of evidence has been presented by Russia to bolster their claims against the 31-year-old journalist.

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The case posits that Gershkovich’s arrest is not stemming from a sincere belief by Russia in their unfounded allegations of espionage. Instead, they argue the young journalist has become a pawn in a complex political game. Russian President Vladimir Putin is allegedly using Gershkovich as a bargaining chip – unjustly detaining him in an attempt to gain leverage and possibly extort the United States, mirroring previous instances involving other American citizens.

Jason Conti, the esteemed executive vice president and general counsel of Dow Jones, which publishes the Wall Street Journal, expressed hope at a U.N. Correspondents Association news conference. He anticipates a declaration that Russia has disregarded its obligations under international law, accompanied by a vehement call for Gershkovich’s immediate release.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention – consisting of five independent experts, operates as a part of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council. This specialized group is authorized to investigate incidents where liberty has been revoked arbitrarily or out of alignment with the international human rights standards as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has so far indicated that they would consider exchanging Gershkovich only once a trial verdict has been reached. Espionage trials in Russia are known to extend well beyond a year, and yet a date for Gershkovich’s trial has not yet been set.

Lawyers representing Gershkovich in Russia have lodged an appeal against a Moscow court’s decision to prolong his pretrial detention until late November.

Back in Washington, Paul Beckett, the Washington bureau chief for the Journal, relayed to journalists that Gershkovich is holding up well given the circumstances. Thanks to his youth and good health, regular communication via letters and visits from his lawyers and sporadic meetings with U.S. diplomats, he remains resilient.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to encounter espionage charges in Russia since the KGB arrested Nicholas Daniloff, a correspondent for the U.S. News and World Report in Moscow, in September 1986.

Mariana Katzarova, the pioneering U.N. special investigator on human rights in Russia, voiced strongly at the press conference for an immediate release of Gershkovich, arguing that his arrest is infringing on his rights and professional duties as a journalist.

Katzarova also compared alarming figures: 16 individuals were convicted of espionage and treason in 2020 in Russia while 80 people have been indicted for treason in the first seven months of this year alone. She suggested this dramatic increase could potentially signify Russia’s escalating attempts to muzzle independent media outlets. Further remarks on the human rights climate in Russia will be made by Katzarova at the Human Rights Council on September 21.