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EDITORIAL: Russian show trials live on with American reporter

Joseph Stalin’s infamous death camps are a thing of the past in modern Russia, but the dictator’s absurd show trials live on. Last week, Russian prosecutors announced that they had finalized “charges” against Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and will begin sham proceedings against him next week.

Mr. Gershkovich has languished in a Russian jail cell for 15 months. He was detained and accused of spying in March 2023 in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, while on assignment for the Journal. He is the first American reporter arrested on such a charge in three decades.

Mr. Gershkovich’s real value, of course, is that Russian strongman Vladimir Putin can use him — along with U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan and Radio Free Europe editor Alsu Kurmasheva, Americans who were also arrested in Russia on dubious charges — as currency to secure the return of convicted Russian criminals being held in the West. “We understand clearly that he is in prison to get exchanged,” Yevgeny Smirnov, a Russian attorney, told The New York Times.

Putin has previously stated that he is open to a prisoner swap — but only after the trial is completed. But calling it a trial is itself a farce. The result is preordained. The proceedings will take place in secret. Due process is nonexistent. It was only last week — more than a year after the arrest — that prosecutors alleged in a statement that Mr. Gershkovich “was collecting secret information” about a military factory “under instructions from the CIA.” Yet they have offered no evidence to justify the claim.

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge,” said a statement from the Journal. “Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous. Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job.”

Critics of America’s legal process should take note. So should progressives who seek to narrow the First Amendment. No system is above reform, but the protections afforded U.S. citizens in the Bill of Rights — free speech, freedom of the press, the right to a public jury trial, due process — make this country a beacon of freedom throughout the world for those who cherish liberty and individual rights. It’s no secret why WNBA star Brittney Griner — who spent months behind bars in Russia on trumped-up drug charges — now stands for “The Star Spangled Banner.”

We trust the Biden administration is working diligently to bring home Mr. Gershkovich, Mr. Whelan and Ms. Kurmasheva. The White House shouldn’t rest until they are safely back on American soil.

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