Top US newspapers call for Evan Gershkovich’s release in Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry says it denied a US consular visit request for journalist amid growing calls for his release.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands behind a glass wall before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his detention in Moscow, April 18 [Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal have released a joint letter calling for the release of Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained in Russia since late March, stressing that he is being detained solely for doing his job as a reporter.

The letter, which appeared in three major newspapers on Thursday and was signed by the top editors and executives of the publications, is the latest show of support from fellow journalists to Gershkovich who was arrested on spying charges while reporting for the Wall Street Journal.

“As editors and publishers of some of America’s largest news organizations, we are united in calling for his immediate release. Reporting is not a crime,” the letter reads.

“Over the past month, we have watched our industry not only rally around Evan but stand up for journalism and the importance of a free press. We also encourage support from the US government, including President [Joe] Biden and the White House.”

Earlier this month, the Department of State formally designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained”, and the Biden administration had dismissed the charges against him as “ridiculous” early on.

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Thursday that it rejected a US request for a consular visit to Gershkovich in retaliation to Washington’s denying visa requests for Russian journalists who had planned to accompany Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on a trip to the United Nations.

“The US Embassy was informed in this connection that its request for consular access to US citizen Gershkovich, detained on suspicion of espionage, on May 11 was declined,” the ministry statement said. “Other possible retaliatory measures, about which the US side will be duly notified, are being considered.”

Washington previously accused Moscow of violating international law by denying US officials access to the Wall Street Journal journalist.

On April 17, US Ambassador Lynne Tracy visited Gershkovich for the first time and said he was “in good health and remains strong”.

Last week, a Russian court rejected Gershkovich’s detention appeal and denied him bail.

Advocates have said Gershkovich’s arrest is part of Russia’s broader crackdown on media outlets as it pushes forward with the invasion of Ukraine.

“Evan’s case is the latest in a disturbing trend where journalists are harassed, arrested or worse for reporting the news,” the three US newspapers said in their letter on Thursday.

“Evan is a distinguished journalist whose coverage has provided an important window into one of the world’s most isolated countries; his detention is a loss not just for our individual publications but for the people of Russia and society at large.”

Still, Russian officials claim that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed and violated the laws of the Russian Federation”. They have not presented evidence to back the charges.

Earlier this month, Biden described Gershkovich’s detention as “totally illegal” and phoned his family.

The reporter is now one of two US citizens who Washington says are “wrongfully detained” by Moscow. Paul Whelan, a US Marine veteran, was previously sentenced to 16 years in 2020 on espionage charges that Washington has said 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 invasion of Ukraine.

Washington has vowed to continue to push for the release of both Whelan and Gershkovich from Russia.

On Thursday, the State Department announced sanctions against Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Intelligence Organization (IRGC-IO) for what it said was involvement in the wrongful detention of American citizens.

“Russia’s and Iran’s continued pattern of wrongfully detaining US nationals is unacceptable,” the State Department said in a statement. “The United States will never stop working to secure the release of U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage and reunite them with their loved ones.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies