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'Wall Street Journal' reporter Evan Gershkovich has spent a year jailed in Russia

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

One year ago today, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage. He remains in custody, he denies the charges, and the U.S. government says he's been wrongfully detained. Emma Tucker is editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal.

EMMA TUCKER, BYLINE: He was in court earlier this week. Generally speaking, we don't have direct contact with him. Any contact we have is via letters. He's a prolific letter writer. But in terms of his well-being, he's holding up OK. But, you know, at the end of the day, he's been in prison for a year when he shouldn't be there. It's a complete outrage and, you know, it's time for him to come home.

ELLIOTT: Is there any indication that he will be put on trial any time soon?

TUCKER: Well, it's very hard to tell. I mean, what's happened is since he was detained, we've had this cycle of he shows up in court and his pre-trial detention gets extended. We challenge that extension, we lose the appeal, and then he reappears in court three months later. This has happened five times now. So I think under Russian so-called law, they're allowed to hold somebody for a year in pre-trial detention, but when there are special circumstances, they can extend it. And that's what's happened here.

ELLIOTT: The latest ruling has this extended until June?

TUCKER: Correct.

ELLIOTT: Putin has said he's open to the idea of some sort of a prisoner swap with the U.S. involving Gershkovich. Has there been any movement in that direction that you're aware of?

TUCKER: No, I think it's a complicated process with different governments, different actors involved. I mean, when Putin started talking about the possibility of a prisoner swap, I think everybody did feel a little bit more optimistic. But at the moment it feels like there's not much movement on that front at all. So we can only hope.

ELLIOTT: Do you think the Biden administration is doing all it should to get Evan Gershkovich home?

TUCKER: The Biden administration has been pretty relentless in its efforts to get Paul and Evan out. You know, obviously, it's a year. It's very, very frustrating. But I'm confident that they're doing everything they can.

ELLIOTT: You're talking about Paul Whelan, who is also accused of espionage and jailed in Russia. You had just joined the Wall Street Journal as its editor in chief a few months before Evan's detainment. If it's not too difficult for you, I wonder if you might share your memories of a year ago when you first learned that he had been detained.

TUCKER: Well, I'll never forget the day because my managing editor mentioned to me at the end of a meeting about something else, she said, oh, by the way, one of our reporters in Russia has missed his security check-in. So we have a protocol for all our reporters in dangerous parts of the world. They have to check in three times a day. Now, at that point, I did think, well, you know, maybe his phone's run out of battery. Maybe he has no Wi-Fi. I wasn't too alarmed, but it did make me - it triggered sort of unhappy memories of a similar incident we'd had when I was in London at The Times of London, when two reporters got kidnapped in Syria. The same sort of thing unfolded.

Anyway, I put it out of my mind. And then a few hours later, the managing editor, I saw her coming back towards my office and I just knew she was coming to tell me that he'd missed his second check-in. And at that point, she was in touch with his family, and we were beginning to get seriously worried. I went home. I said, I'll leave my phone on, only ring me if it's bad news. And my phone rang at 4 o'clock in the morning. So I remember waking up and thinking, oh, God. And it was bad news.

ELLIOTT: How do you, as a news executive, balance the need to cover the world with the need to keep your reporters safe?

TUCKER: That is such a good and important question. It's becoming harder and harder for reporters to do their job around the world, and news organizations like ours are getting worryingly adept at covering stories from outside countries. So as it stands, we only have one reporter in Russia and he is in prison. All our Russia coverage is done from outside Russia. We have to prioritize our journalists' safety, and that does mean having to make some very difficult decisions about when to go into a country and when not to. And we will never, ever step away from our commitment as a big media brand to cover stories from the ground. Where we can do that, we will remain committed to doing it. But as I say, we have to put our reporters' safety first.

ELLIOTT: Emma Tucker is editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal. Today marks one year since their reporter, Evan Gershkovich, was detained by Russia, where he remains. Thank you so much for your time.

TUCKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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