JCRC Blog – How You Can Advocate for the Release of Wrongly Imprisoned People in Russia

By Jeff Dawson
Associate Director, Jewish Community Relations Council
Published May 25, 2023

Jewish Federation joins Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in its efforts to liberate Jewish-American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been wrongfully detained in Russia on fabricated espionage charges since March 2023. Gershkovich, who worked for the Wall Street Journal at the time of his arrest, is the son of Jewish parents who emigrated from the former Soviet Union to escape antisemitism. Gershkovich is the first American journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the Cold War. President Biden and news organizations around the world are calling for his immediate release.

Federation has signed on to JFNA’s letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the U.S. Government to intensify its efforts for Gershkovich’s release. Our support extends beyond Evan, embracing other detained Americans such as Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel, as well as Jewish-Russian dissident and Washington Post contributor Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza’s imprisonment for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine echoes the trials faced by Jewish Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, who spent nine years in a Russian prison after his 1977 arrest and conviction on falsified treason and espionage charges. Kara-Murza’s 25-year sentence, which he received in April, is the harshest one handed down to an opposition activist. Natan Sharansky called the prosecution of Kara-Murza for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine “evidence that Russia has returned to Stalinist times.

By advocating for Evan Gershkovich, Vladimir Kara-Murza, and other political prisoners, our community is upholding deeply embedded Jewish values of Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Bazeh, all of Israel are responsible for each other, and Pidyon Shevuyim, the mitzvah to redeem the captives. These principles remind us of our responsibility to one another, and they emphasize the sanctity of human life and dignity and the duty to liberate those who are not free.

Last month, senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter with a bipartisan group of 70 U.S. lawmakers to the U.S. State Department urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to designate Kara-Murza as “unlawfully and wrongfully detained.” Once the secretary of state designates someone as wrongfully detained, the law requires the U.S. government to work to earn their release. Additionally, a recent resolution introduced in the United States House of Representatives calling for Gershkovitz’s release passed a voice vote in the committee this week and may go before the entire House of Representatives in the coming weeks. If both initiatives pass, they will amplify our call for justice and potentially strengthen the Biden administration’s efforts to get Gershkovich, Kara-Murza and other Americans returned home.

There are several ways you can take an active role in advocacy. To read the latest coverage of Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal has placed it in front of its paywall here. You can reach out to your local Congressional representative here, urging them to support the resolution for Gershkovich’s release. You can learn more about Vladimir Kara-Murza, and watch his powerful address to the Arizona State Legislature, for which he was arrested.

You can send these men a letter of solidarity and support – write Gershkovich here, Kara-Murza here, Whelan here, and Fogel here. Use the hashtags #IStandWithEvan, #FreeKaraMurza, #FreePaulWhelan, and #FreeMarcFogel when you share their stories and updates on social media. It is important to ensure these men are not forgotten so that our government will continue its efforts for their release.

Remember, every voice adds to the collective strength of our message.

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