Biden vows to keep pushing for release of US reporter held in Russia

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Joe Biden has vowed to keep working to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in Russia for a year, as Republicans and Democrats in Washington united to denounce his imprisonment.

“Journalism is not a crime, and Evan went to Russia to do his job as a reporter — risking his safety to shine the light of truth on Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine,” the US president said in a statement on Friday.

“We will continue working every day to secure his release. We will continue to denounce and impose costs for Russia’s appalling attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips. And we will continue to stand strong against all those who seek to attack the press or target journalists — the pillars of free society,” Biden added.

US officials have tried for months to negotiate Gershkovich’s release — along with Paul Whelan, a former US marine who has been jailed in Russia since 2018. The White House and state department have been reluctant to discuss the details of the talks to secure the release of the two men, but have indicated that it could be part of a prisoner swap with Moscow.

Moscow’s detention of Gershkovich last year came as Russia’s authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin tightened his control over the country, launching a further crackdown on independent media following the Kremlin’s decision to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Several western and independent media outlets have been forced to leave the country for fear of reprisals. In February, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in an Arctic penal colony. Putin won re-election as Russian president earlier this month with almost 90 per cent of the vote.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, reiterated that Russia’s detention of Gershkovich had been wrongful and criticised Moscow’s crackdown on press freedom.

“To date, Russia has provided no evidence of wrongdoing for a simple reason: Evan did nothing wrong,” Blinken said. “In the year since Evan’s wrongful detention, Russia’s already restrictive media landscape has become more oppressive, with a continued assault against independent voices targeting any form of dissent,” he added.

On Friday morning, congressional leaders from both main US political parties issued a rare joint statement backing the administration’s calls for Gershkovich’s release.

“We continue to condemn his baseless arrest, fabricated charges and unjust imprisonment,” said Republicans Mike Johnson and Mitch McConnell, and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries.

“Forty-five years ago, Evan’s parents, Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich, found refuge in the United States after fleeing the Soviet Union. Today, Putin is restoring Soviet-style control through repression at home and aggression abroad,” they added.

Gershkovich, 32, was detained in the Russian city of Ekaterinburg in March 2023 on espionage charges — in the first case of Russia detaining a US reporter for spying since the cold war. He was reporting on the Wagner mercenary group at the time.

The US government and the newspaper reject the charges and describe them as completely false. The Wall Street Journal said earlier this week that it would continue to do “everything in our power” to secure Gershkovich’s release.


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