The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
We have far more questions than answers about what happened in Russia over the weekend, and what continues to happen, with what may have been an almost-coup and uncertainty about the strength of President Vladimir Putin’s position. Amid the uncertainty, at least one thing remains clear: Russia should release the people it has wrongfully detained.
For example, Maine’s U.S. senators joined with a bipartisan group of their colleagues recently to show support for journalist Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter and Bowdoin College graduate detained in Russia since late March. Symbolic steps like this are necessary until Russia gives up on its wrongful detention and releases someone who was just doing his job.
“We are fully committed to bringing you, Paul [Whelan], and every wrongfully-detained American home at the earliest opportunity. Every day you spend in Russia is a day too long,” U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King and colleagues wrote in a June 13 open letter to Gershkovich. “Please know that the support for you and Paul go well beyond the walls of the United States Senate, and that the American people are with us in demanding your release.”
A Russian court rejected Gershkovich’s appeal on Thursday to be released from his pre-trial detention. He has been accused of espionage without Russian officials offering any evidence to back up the charge — a charge that he, his employer and the U.S. refute. One federal official described the legal proceedings against Gershkovich as a “sham” ahead of the hearing.
“We’ve been very clear that Evan is wrongfully detained — being wrongfully detained and targeted for simply doing his job as a journalist,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Wednesday.
Journalists from the U.S. and abroad have rallied to Gershkovich’s cause, condemning Russia’s hostility to press freedom and calling for his release. The senators highlighted Gershkovich’s critical role as a truth-teller in their recent letter as well.
“We believe that a free press is crucial to the foundation and support of human rights everywhere,” the group of more than 30 lawmakers wrote. “We applaud you for your efforts to report the truth about Russia’s reprehensible invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that has resulted in untellable atrocities, tragedies, and loss of life. Your courageous efforts have demonstrated how these atrocities have affected everyday Ukrainians and helped inform accountability efforts here in Washington.”
Gershkovich had lived and reported in Russia for several years before his arrest. Both of his parents, Mikhail Gershkovich and Ella Milman, left the former Soviet Union for the U.S. decades ago, and were in the Moscow courtroom for Thursday’s hearing.
“Any parent who loves their kid would travel to the end of the world to be with them for five minutes,” Milman told the Wall Street Journal after a previous hearing in May.
Gershkovich was able to chat and smile with his parents Thursday. But this moving and brief interaction once again put his wrongful detention in stark focus. He and his parents should not be spending a few minutes together through a glass cage. They should be at home, free from the authoritarian whims of a Russian government that has shown little regard for press freedoms — and has seen significant instability in recent days.
“His wrongful detention is a blow to press freedom, and it should matter to anyone who values free society,” Wall Street Journal leaders said in a June 13 statement welcoming the bipartisan show of support from the group of senators. “We will not rest until he is free.”
As we did with basketball player Brittney Griner, we will continue to call on Russia to release wrongfully detained Americans like Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, and to push the Biden administration to help secure that release.
“Please stay well and strong, and we hope to meet you face-to-face when you are returned to your loved ones,” the senators wrote in their recent letter to Gershkovich.
That day cannot come soon enough.