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A year too long

March 29, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the Bowdoin Orient Editorial Board.

Yesterday marked one year since Evan Gershkovich ’14 was wrongfully detained by Russian authorities on espionage charges. Gershkovich reported for the Wall Street Journal and is the first U.S. journalist to be detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War.

A year later, Gershkovich is still behind bars. On Tuesday, a court in Moscow extended Gershkovich’s detention for the fifth time. He will remain in prison until at least June 30.

We think about Gershkovich not only as a journalist wrongfully imprisoned, but also as a beloved member of the Bowdoin community. We advocate for his freedom so that he can return home safely to his friends and family. We urge the Bowdoin community to keep talking about Gershkovich and bring attention to his cause. Do not forget about his detainment just because it has been a year.

As student journalists, we also recognize that Gershkovich’s detainment is one of the most prominent examples of journalism being treated as a crime and journalists risking their lives simply by doing their jobs.

While the internet has opened a flood of information for us, it is important to remember that someone had to conduct the reporting in the first place. That is the irreplaceable role of journalists. Gershkovich’s story reminds us of the people who risk their lives to bring us vital information, at home and abroad.

Last year, a local newspaper in Kansas was raided by police under the pretense of identity theft. In 2019, the police raided the home of San Francisco journalist Bryan Carmody, who was reporting on the death of a public defender.

Just this week, Eli Motycka, a reporter for the Nashville Scene, was arrested while reporting on a sit-in by the Vanderbilt Divestment Coalition at Vanderbilt University. A photo clearly shows Motycka wearing a press pass. The First Amendment protects freedom of the press. It always has. Despite the charges later being dropped, Motycka’s initial arrest symbolizes a rupture in the sanctity of both journalism and democracy.

Aside from government interference, journalists also brave chaotic battlefronts to report on information for us to read in the comforts of our homes. Journalists have been killed in Mexico while reporting on various drug cartels, in Russia while reporting on the assault on Ukrainian homes and towns and in Gaza while reporting on the Israeli air and ground assaults. These are only a few examples. In 2022, journalist deaths rose by 50 percent compared to the previous year, and in 2023 there were at least 95 confirmed journalist deaths around the world.

All of these attacks on journalism—both locally and internationally—are connected. They are examples of people in power abusing their positions, jeopardizing the institution of free press. By telling stories, pursuing the truth and exposing corruption, journalists are the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. We owe it to journalists, and to Gershkovich, to pay attention, support journalism at home and abroad and stand by the free press.

Gershkovich has been in jail for 366 days. He should not have been there for one nor should he be there for a day longer. We cannot stop fighting to free Evan.

This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Sara Coughlin, Abdullah Hashimi, Kristen Kinzler, Austin Zheng, Sam Pausman and Juliana Vandermark.


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