(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken has officially determined that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is being “wrongfully detained” by Russia, a designation that will allow the U.S. government to more aggressively advocate for his freedom.
“Journalism is not a crime. We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth,” the State Department said in a statement announcing the development on Monday. “The U.S. government will provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family. We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich.”
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old American citizen who has worked in Moscow for more than half a decade, was arrested late last month on espionage charges. He has pleaded not guilty, and both the Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government have repeatedly declared the allegations are baseless.
Blinken has already held a rare call with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to advocate for Gershkovich’s release. The secretary said last week that he had “no doubt” that the reporter was being unjustly held by Russia, but that the department was still working through the bureaucratic process required to classify the case a wrongful detention — an undertaking that can take months or even years to complete.
Officials say the speed at which the department moved to classify Gershkovich as wrongfully detained is unprecedented.
Gershkovich’s case will now be transferred to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs — a section within the State Department often referred to as the U.S. government’s top hostage negotiator. The designation also frees up additional government resources and grants the department additional authorities to push for his freedom.
But so far, American diplomats stationed in Russia have been unable to even see Gershkovich behind bars, a standard practice that allows foreign governments to communicate with nationals jailed abroad.
During a press briefing on Monday, the State Department said Moscow was violating international law and agreements between the U.S. and Russia by continuing to block officials from seeing Gershkovich.
“We have stressed the need for the Russian government to provide this access as soon as possible,” Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the department, said during a press briefing.”
Gershkovich is now the second American considered to be wrongfully detained by Russia. Paul Whelan, an American citizen who Moscow also accused of espionage, has been imprisoned since 2018.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.