Effort Seeks to Highlight Detained Journalist’s Plight

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Keeping the plight of jailed journalist Evan Gershkovich top of mind as the one-year anniversary of his Russian detention nears hopefully will result in his eventual release, a Wall Street Journal colleague said.

Paul Beckett, an assistant editor with the Journal who is leading efforts to secure Gershkovich’s release, will be the featured speaker at a Thursday evening program hosted by the Youngstown Press Club. The “I Stand with Evan” event will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Ford Family Recital Hall at DeYor Performing Arts Center, 260 W. Federal St. 

Gershkovich is the first American journalist charged with espionage in Russia since the Cold War, the press club said in a news release announcing the event. He has profiled Russian dissidents, written extensively about the Kremlin’s war efforts and reported from Russian border towns on the war’s toll since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The Journal hired the American-born Gershkovich to cover Russia in January 2022, just before the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Beckett said. An accredited journalist in Russia with the permission of the Russian foreign ministry, he was pulled out of a restaurant and arrested on an espionage charge March 29, 2023.   

Gershkovich, his newspaper and the U.S. government all deny the charge, which Russian officials have yet to substantiate. A Russian court ruled Tuesday to keep him in custody pending his trial on the charges, keeping him behind bars until the end of March, according to an Associated Press story.

“He was reporting for The Wall Street Journal and doing his job. It’s just that the laws have been written so strictly in [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia that journalism as we know it has itself become a crime,” Beckett said during a virtual interview.

“It’s a huge issue – an American reporter in jail now for almost a year,” Diane Laney Fitzpatrick, the press club’s executive director, said in a news release announcing Thursday’s event.

“We’re looking forward to learning more about Evan’s situation and the work to get him released,” she added.

“It’s important to understand this will not be solved by The Wall Street Journal. This will be solved ultimately by a government-to-government negotiation between the U.S., Russia and any other country that can be helpful,” Beckett said. “We’ve just taken the stance that … his being prominent will make that more likely to come about.”

If he is forgotten, Gershkovich is likely to slip as a priority and will remain in prison “for a very long time,” he continued. Beckett said he believes Putin is seeking leverage on the United States. So at one level his colleague is a hostage, and Putin is looking to get something in exchange for his release.   

During a recent interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Putin suggested that he would be open to releasing Gershkovich in exchange for a prisoner being held by the U.S.

Gershkovich’s detention has had the corollary effect of forcing other American correspondents to flee, Beckett added. That has cut off “a major source of trustworthy information” about a country that is important to the future of America with “enormous influence on American life, American politics, European politics and war.”

In December, the U.S. government said it had made an offer for the releases of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine also detained by Russia for the past five years, but the offer was rejected, Beckett said.

“Obviously, we’re hopeful that the government can figure out something that would bring both of them back,” he said.

In addition to doing presentations in locations including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Beckett said he and other Wall Street Journal editors have spoken about Gershkovich’s plight in London, Germany and the Davos World Economic Forum. He came to Youngstown through a colleague, senior reporter Lisa Bannon, who started her career at the Tribune Chronicle in Warren.

“We’re also keen to help however we can, formulating whatever policies the U.S. administration can come up with that would deter this from happening in the first place,” Beckett said.

Youngstown Press Club board member Brenda Linert will lead the conversation with Beckett and moderate questions from the audience. A reception will follow in the Eleanor Beecher Flad Pavilion.

In addition to the press club, program sponsors include The Business Journal, DeYor Performing Arts Center, Pecchia Communications, WKBN-TV, Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and Edward M. Barr Foundation.

Tickets can be purchased for $30 through the DeYor box office at deyorpac.org/events. Tickets will also be sold at the door.

Pictured at top: Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday. (Moscow City Court via AP)

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