Our Voices

The Business of Human Rights and Protections Abroad

“We need to protect the journalists,” pleaded Mikhail Gershkovich, father of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich who was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service on March 30, 2023, while on assignment. While his detention has been condemned by news organizations, human rights groups, and the Biden administration, Gershkovich has yet to be released. In an era of increasing arrests of journalists and dangerous reporting conditions, many news organizations, including the WSJ, have pulled reporters out of several conflict zones despite their commitment to keeping their network of foreign correspondents and being on the ground doing free and independent reporting. “The safety of our journalists comes first,” said Emma Tucker, Editor in Chief of the WSJ.

On January 17th, Tucker hosted a discussion in Davos with Kerry Kennedy and Evan’s parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, about the impact of journalist detentions and what can be done to stop them. Evan’s parents were in Davos to advocate for Evan’s release. After describing the inhumane conditions at Lefortovo, an infamous Stalin era prison where Evan is being held, Ella expressed both her grief over her son’s imprisonment and her hope that he will soon be released. While Evan writes weekly letters to his parents, these do little to assuage their constant worry.

After stating that detentions of journalists are on the rise, both because regimes do not like to be exposed or critiqued and because of hostage diplomacy, Emma asked Kerry about this trend. Kerry pointed out that it is not just international journalists who are being detained, but local journalists who are often arrested in higher numbers and who have less support. While Kerry acknowledged that illegal detentions are on the uptick, she asserted that there is reason for hope and that change is coming.

Kerry cited two promising cases that the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights International Advocacy and Litigation team helped to win in the last decade, illustrating that governments can be held accountable for their treatment of journalists. In a landmark victory in 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found Colombia responsible for the death of Nelson Carvajal, a journalist killed following his reporting about local corruption in the first ever case to be decided by this tribunal on lethal violence against the press. Additionally, Mexico acknowledged responsibility for failing to protect and investigate the disappearance of journalist Alfredo Jimenez Mota in another monumental case.

These cases demonstrate that there is “momentum for change and increasing awareness of this issue,” Kerry stated, but the pressure on governments to end the illegal detention of journalists must remain high. When asked how to do that, Kerry responded that organizations can keep the issue front and center, as the WSJ has with Evan, and argued that governments should face sanctions for these actions. Strategic litigation is another tactic that can help to turn the tide. According to Kerry, one strategy is to get a ruling from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and then use that ruling to put pressure on the country where the journalist is detained.

“We really have a choice moving forward as humanity about the kind of world we want to live in,” Kerry reminded the audience. “Do we want to bolster democracy around the world and in our own countries or do we want to move towards autocracy?”

If you would like to get involved in the efforts to free Evan, you can send a letter to him or show your support on social media. Learn more about Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ strategic litigation efforts to help journalists here.