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U.N. panel finds Russia arbitrarily detained reporter Evan Gershkovich

Independent experts convened by the U.N. cite a 'striking lack of any factual or legal substantiation’ for spying charges.

Screenshot from a WSJ video about Evan Gershkovich (AN/WSJ)

GENEVA (AN) — Human rights experts say Russia's detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich since March 2023 is arbitrary and illegal, and he must be immediately released from prison.

The panel's findings released Tuesday build on international condemnation of his arrest and imprisonment on alleged espionage charges. Gershkovich and the Journal both vehemently deny the charges; the U.S. State Department also says he is "wrongfully detained," a legal determination that commits the government to seek his release.

“There is a striking lack of any factual or legal substantiation provided by the authorities of the Russian Federation for the espionage charges against Mr. Gershkovich,” the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concludes.

Instead, the panel of independent human rights experts says Russia's detention of Gershkovich is "designed to punish his reporting on the armed conflict” between Russia and Ukraine. “Consequently, it lacked a legal basis and is arbitrary.”

The U.N. working group, whose legal scholars and attorneys from five countries report to the 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva, also says the American reporter's "deprivation of liberty constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination based on his nationality."

Its findings, based in nations' obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, were a response to the Journal's request for a formal opinion. Almar Latour, the Journal's publisher and CEO of Dow Jones, commended the panel for "reaffirming what we have known since his unjust arrest."

“As the U.N. working group recognizes, Russia is violating international law by imprisoning Evan for his journalism, silencing critical reporting, and depriving him of due process and other rights,” Latour said. “We continue to call on the U.S. government and all world leaders to do everything they can to bring Evan home now.”

Gershkovich, a Russian speaker who was born in the U.S. to parents that immigrated from the former Soviet Union, went on trial behind closed doors last week in Yekaterinburg, Russia, where he was arrested during a reporting trip.

He is the first Western journalist to be arrested on charges of spying in Russia since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. The panel says the trial should not be held because he faces charges for which no evidence has been offered.

If convicted, which is nearly certain to happen, he faces up to 20 years in prison, but Russia has indicated it might be open to a prisoner swap.