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Why Evan Gershkovich Is on the Cover of TIME

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands inside an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his pre-trial detention on espionage charges in Moscow, Oct. 10, 2023. Credit - Evgenia Novozhenina—Reuters

There are two moments in Charlotte Alter’s cover story on the unjust imprisonment of American journalist Evan Gershkovich that I can’t get out of my head.

The first is a phone call between Wall Street Journal editor Emma Tucker and Paul Beckett, then the Journal’s Washington bureau chief, at the time of Gershkovich’s detention. The shock running through that moment, which Charlotte includes in her retelling of the hours that followed Gershkovich’s arrest, speaks volumes about the unreality of his abduction into the Russian judicial system. Even after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Gershkovich had continued to report from Russia regularly. He’d told his parents not to worry; after all, he was a journalist accredited by the Foreign Ministry. Gershkovich thought that status would protect him, even as he knew life there had changed. “Reporting on Russia is now also a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years,” he wrote on Twitter, now X, in July 2022.

<span class="copyright">Illustration by Kevin Sprouls for TIME</span>
Illustration by Kevin Sprouls for TIME

On March 29, 2023, Gershkovich joined that number, which includes fellow American Paul Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year prison sentence on false charges of spying. The recent death of activist Alexei Navalny in a Russian penal colony only underscored the precarity of their situation—and negated the possibility of a prisoner exchange that could have included all three, Charlotte reports.

The second moment in the story that I can’t forget comes at the end. This one made me hopeful. Anyone who reads Charlotte’s story will see clearly that Gershkovich appears to have lost neither his sense of self nor his sense of humor. Even behind the walls of Lefortovo prison, he has found ways to share his love for others.

Read the cover story here: The Fight to Free Evan Gershkovich

Gershkovich saw reporting in Russia as a calling, one made all the more important because the freedom of Russian journalists had been almost entirely curtailed. That silencing is only one example of the pressures the press has faced in the past decade. Six years ago, we recognized the courage and threat that journalists like Maria Ressa of the Philippines’ Rappler face by selecting as Person of the Year a collection of reporters and editors under fire—a group we called the Guardians. Their courage has not relented, but neither have the threats: according to a December 2023 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Gershkovich was one of 320 journalists around the world who are imprisoned for their work. That is the second highest number since the organization began counting in 1992.

At TIME, we hope our journalism leads to action. We set out to tell the story of Gershkovich’s arrest and imprisonment, and its impact on his family, friends, and co-workers in the hours and months to follow. We know that hundreds of people are fighting today to free Gershkovich. In October, he turned 32 in his jail cell. And on March 29, it will have been a full year since his arrest on false charges of espionage. We join the journalists and their supporters at the Wall Street Journal, as well as our colleagues across our industry, in calling for his release. We look forward to the day when Gershkovich is free, back with his friends and family, back doing the work he loves.

Write to Sam Jacobs at sam.jacobs@time.com.