Tuesday, October 31, 2023

US declares WSJ journalist was ‘unjustly held’ in Russia


The United States has formally designated Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich as a “wrongfully detained” individual by Russia. This move comes more than 10 days after Russian authorities announced they had arrested Gershkovich on spying charges, which the US President Joe Biden’s administration dismissed as “ridiculous” early on. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s “wrongful” detention determination makes it the official US position that Gershkovich is unfairly imprisoned and opens the door for Washington to devote more resources to pushing for his release.

The designation moves Gershkovich’s case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which leads efforts to secure the freedom of “wrongful detainees held abroad, support their families, and end the practice of hostage diplomacy”. Media advocacy groups and the Wall Street Journal previously denounced Gershkovich’s detention, which came as tensions between Washington and Moscow continue to mount amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

However, Russian authorities have insisted that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed”. Earlier on Monday, Washington accused Moscow of violating international law by denying US officials consular access to the reporter. The State Department said it is continuing to try to reach Gershkovich but Russian authorities have not granted its requests. Consular access allows diplomats to communicate with citizens jailed in foreign countries.

In a phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov earlier this month, Blinken called for Gershkovich’s “immediate release” – a demand Washington reiterated on Monday. “The US government will provide all appropriate support to Mr Gershkovich and his family. We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr Gershkovich,” the State Department said.

In a statement after Monday’s formal designation, the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Emma Tucker and publisher Almar Latour said they were working with US officials to push for Gershkovich’s release. “He is a distinguished journalist and his arrest is an attack on a free press and it should spur outrage in all free people and governments around the world,” they said.

The journalist is now one of two American citizens the US says are “wrongfully detained” in Russia. Paul Whelan, a former US Marine veteran, remains in a Russian prison after he was sentenced to 16 years in 2020 on espionage charges that Washington says are false. Late last year, Russia released US basketball player Brittney Griner in a prisoner swap that did not include Whelan. Griner was detained on drug charges days before Russia launched its all-out assault on Ukraine.

The State Department has stressed the need for the Russian government to provide consular access to Gershkovich as soon as possible. The US government has also called for the immediate release of both Gershkovich and Whelan. The Wall Street Journal has condemned Gershkovich’s detention as an attack on a free press and is working with US officials to secure his release. The ongoing tensions between Washington and Moscow, particularly in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine, have further complicated the situation.

Latest stories