Evan Gershkovich: Another victim of Russia’s tradition of arbitrary detention
In the USSR, Jews faced discrimination in every aspect of their lives. Their access to education, employment, and even free travel were all restricted. My grandfather received the Order of Lenin, the country’s highest honor – yet felt so unsafe as a Jew that he organized my family’s escape from Russia.
We arrived in America when I was a small child, and my family marveled at the free press we found here. Soviet news was all state propaganda, much of it antisemitic, so the notion of journalists holding the government accountable was strange and exciting. Corruption was the hallmark of Communist governance, but you’d never read about it in the paper.
Sadly, Vladimir Putin prefers the Soviet model to the American one. Yesterday, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich became the latest in a long line of journalists to be arbitrarily detained by the Russian government. The Russian secret police-cum-intelligence service, the FSB, allege that Gershkovich was a spy attempting to obtain state secrets – a tired lie that may be a reaction to America’s arrest of a Russian spy last Friday.
The FSB have a lot of practice concocting false charges against the media. They arrested 80 journalists reporting on protests supporting jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a state news producer who called out her own network’s lies, an investigative reporter whom they framed with drug charges; any critical voice is a candidate for false imprisonment, on bogus charges of ‘treason,’ ‘misinformation,’ or criticizing the Russian military.
Putin wants to suppress the truth on issues that would embarrass his regime, from corruption and human rights abuses to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Last year, he even made it illegal to refer to his brutal invasion as the war it so clearly is. These are the actions of a desperate autocrat whose survival depends on concealing his graft and malfeasance – the very hallmarks of the Soviet state in which Putin was raised.
As a Soviet Jewish refugee, these targeted human rights violations strike a particular chord with me; the threat of arbitrary detention on trumped-up charges was one of the very reasons my family fled the country.
In 2018, I founded a nonprofit called StopAntisemitism to shine a spotlight on antisemitic incidents while holding perpetrators accountable. We frequently work with media and law enforcement to ensure that anti-Jewish crimes get the attention they deserve – which is how the system should work. Private citizens, news organizations, and the criminal justice system working together for truth and accountability is the cornerstone of democracy.
The work of journalists like Evan Gershkovich is essential, and while Russian authorities may not have targeted him for being Jewish, their actions are part of a broader pattern of repression and censorship that threatens the freedom of all journalists and anyone who speaks out against the government’s policies. Every attempt to silence or intimidate them is an attack on the very foundations of freedom and democracy.
I urge the international community to take action to protect press freedom and human rights in Russia. Even amid the litany of war crimes Russian forces are committing in Ukraine, this issue deserves our attention. We must hold Putin accountable for his repression, and stand in solidarity with journalists like Evan Gershkovich who risk their lives to bring us the truth.