The Wall Street Journal/AP

Under Vladimir Putin reporters have been jailed, beaten in the streets, and murdered. In March, the Kremlin opened another front in its war on the press by charging Evan Gershkovich, a respected reporter for the Wall Street Journal, with espionage. He faces up to 20 years in prison. The American son of Soviet émigrés, Gershkovich understood the risks of reporting on Russia. He described it in July as a “regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine was in its sixth month by then, and most independent media had fled Moscow to avoid a wave of wartime persecution. Gershkovich decided not to move away, a risk fewer journalists will take with his arrest. Gershkovich’s case already resembles a hostage crisis. Putin might use it to squeeze concessions from the U.S., and if one result is further isolation of his country, that might suit him just fine. The fewer journalists there are like Gershkovich in Russia, the more freedom Putin gets to rule by lies.

Shuster is a TIME senior correspondent

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