The Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich is shown in this undated photo. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated his call for Russia to immediately release Gershkovich on Wednesday at NATO headquarters following two days of talks among the alliance's foreign ministers.  Russia accuses Gershkovich of espionage, a claim Americans deny. Credit: The Wall Street Journal

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Journalism is not a crime. At least not in countries that respect a free press and the value of an informed citizenry.

In Vladimir Putin’s Russia, however, apparently it is enough to get some thrown in jail. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a 2014 Bowdoin graduate, was arrested by Russia’s modern-day KGB last week on espionage charges. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there is “no doubt” Gerschkovich has been wrongfully detained. Gershkovich’s employer also refutes the charges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Gerschkovich’s lawyers are appealing the charges and that appeal will be heard in a Moscow court on April 18.  

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the newspaper said last week. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

We stand in solidarity with them too. The idea of equating an accredited journalist doing their job to espionage is decidedly authoritarian. Sadly, it is what we have come to expect from a government in Russia that criminalizes dissent and restricts the free flow of information.

In their clear efforts to use U.S. detainees as leverage, the Russian government seems to have all but criminalized being American in their country. The U.S. government has strongly advised Americans to leave Russia in part because of the potential for wrongful detention.

Blinken has rightfully taken this issue to his Russian counterpart, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, urging Russia to release Gershkovich in a recent phone call. Even Russia’s response to that call reeks of authoritarian doublespeak.

“It was stressed that officials in Washington and the western media must not make a fuss over this case with the clear intention of giving it a political overtone,” the Russian foreign ministry said, as reported by the Guardian.

This seems to be part of the Russian playbook at the moment: Take a violent or despotic action, like its invasion of Ukraine, and then blame the victims and anyone who comes to their defense. Calling the Russian government out for this brash and wrong detainment of a journalist is not a political attack, it is not making a fuss, it is a defense of press freedoms and an individual doing his job.

Leaders from more than 30 news organizations from around the world and the Committee to Protect Journalists signed a letter to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. calling for Gershkovich’s release. This included leaders from the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, New York Times, Bloomberg and Washington Post, among others.

“Gershkovich’s unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in your government’s anti-press actions,” the letter said. “Russia is sending the message that journalism within your borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law.”

That is a factual statement, not a political one. Russia should release Gershkovich immediately.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...