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Jailed Wall Street reporter viewed as an easy target

Paul Becket, Wall Street Journal assistant editor, speaks Thursday with Brenda Linert, Youngstown Press Club member and moderator, during a press club event in the Ford Family Recital Hall at the DeYor Performing Arts Center, 260 W. Federal St. Beckett discussed the effort to free Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich from a Russian prison.

YOUNGSTOWN — When asked about his past description of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s practice of taking hostages as a “business,” Wall Street Journal assistant Editor Paul Beckett expressed the belief that detained reporter Evan Gershkovich was an easy target for anyone trying to gain leverage.

“He (Gershkovich) is an easy target if you were trying to gain leverage,” Beckett said. “And we’ve seen that. Paul Whelan has been there five years and Brittney Griner was there. Trevor Reed was there, he came out. You need somebody else, they need to keep it going.”

About 60 people listened to Beckett speak Thursday at the Youngstown Press Club event “I Stand With Evan” at the DeYor Performing Arts Center in Youngstown.

The purpose was to spread awareness of Gershkovich’s case.

He was arrested on an espionage charge on March 29 2023, something he, the WSJ and the U.S. government deny.

Brenda Linert, a Youngstown Press Club member, led the conversation and moderated audience questions following it. She is former editor of the Tribune Chronicle and Vindicator newspapers.

Beckett said what makes things worse is the dynamics aspect, acknowledging countries will immediately respond and try to get their people back, noting U.S. President Joe Biden’s promise to Gershkovich’s family last year.

Beckett called Putin’s move an “industrial calculation,” pointing out the potential for leverage since he achieved other goals by taking journalists in the past.

Gershkovich is currently being held on espionage charges, suggesting their belief that he was a spy. Beckett said such charges are rare nowadays, pointing out Gershkovich is the first journalist Russia has pressed such a charge with since the Cold War.

Beckett explained Gershkovich is currently being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison in the middle of the city, infamous for its treatment of inmates.

“It’s designed to isolate its inmates and disorient them. The young man and he has held up remarkably well and we’re impressed with how he has handled it,” Beckett said. “He is in a jail cell 23 hours a day and he gets out for one hour a day in an open area, where he gets to walk in his six steps square. He has maintained remarkably well.”

Beckett said they get to see how he’s doing a few times a week, but those are the only eyes and ears they have on him, so the reports they get are vital.

Beckett said Gershkovich tries to keep a pretty regimented routine, exercising in his cell and writes back to people. He said Gershkovich converses pretty frequently with his sister about Arsenal Football Club since they’re big fans of the team and exchange It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia quotes.

Beckett believes Gershkovich’s situation will be solved through constant negotiation.

Beckett said they have things planned for Gershkovich’s one year anniversary in jail. He called upon attendees to pray for him and asked them to be active on social media, using the #IStandWithEvan hashtag to spread awareness to his situation.

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