Mariana KatzarovaSpecial Rapporteur on human rights in Russia and Irene KhanSpecial Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, responded to the 31-year-old United States citizen’s arrest and detention while on a reporting trip to the city of Yekaterinburg.
“The arrest and indictment of Mr Gershkovich on serious criminal charges that could lead to 20 years in a penal colony is an example of the severe suppression of freedom of opinion and expression and of independent journalism in Russia since of the full invasion of Ukraine. 17 months ago, “said the experts.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) correspondent is accused of acting on orders from the US Government to collect information that constitutes “state secrets”.
“The arrest of Gershkovich highlights the recent development of the use of espionage and treason provisions of the Russian Federation Criminal Code in the more frequent arrests of individuals in Russia and we are alarmed by this growing trend,” the experts said. “This is a dangerous instrument given the gravity of the cases and the difficulty of public scrutiny of such cases,” they added.
Human rights experts have expressed alarm over recent developments in the use of espionage and treason provisions within the Criminal Code to arrest individuals, saying that in the first six months of this year, at least at least 43 people were accused of treason.
According to available data, 16 people were convicted of the same charges in 2022, and at least 24 criminal cases were initiated in the same year. At the end of June, it was also reported that in the first six months of 2023, at least 43 people were accused of treason in Russia, the press release from the experts said.
“This is the first time since the Soviet era that Russian authorities have accused a US journalist of espionage and it sends a chilling message to all foreign journalists, and indeed to all journalists in Russia,” say experts.
Mr. Gershkovich moved to Russia in 2017 to work as a journalist accredited in Russia. Last year, he worked as a reporter for the WSJ, reporting on issues such as the mobilization of recruits, sanctions and their impact on the economy and people, Russia’s growing isolation, and the Government’s attempts to silence of anti-war activism.
No access to the embassy
The prosecution has not publicly presented any evidence so far to substantiate the espionage allegations, said experts appointed by the Human Rights Council.
The journalist has only been allowed two visits to the consulate so far, despite multiple requests for access from the US Ambassador in Moscow. The Russian authorities explained their refusal as a response to the “US denial of visas to Russian journalists”.
The Special Rapporteurs appealed the arbitrary arrest of Mr. Gershkovich by the Russian authorities on 12 June and called for his immediate release. No response has been received so far.
Special Rapporteurs and other UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights experts, working on a voluntary and unpaid basis, not UN staff, and working independently from any government or organization.