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US designates Wall Street Journal reporter as wrongfully detained by Russia

Evan Gershkovich is the first U.S. journalist detained by Russia since 1986.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The United States has officially designated Russia’s arrest of a Wall Street Journal reporter as a wrongful detention.

The State Department made the announcement Monday afternoon, shifting the case of Evan Gershkovich to a specialized bureau focused on negotiating the release of captives.

“Journalism is not a crime,” deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a press release. “We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth.”

The formal designation allows the government to access several tools, including diplomacy, to secure the release of an American, rather than waiting for a criminal case to make it through the system. The announcement follows U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's statement last week that he has "no doubt" Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained.

The 31-year-old reporter is a fluent Russian speaker raised in the U.S. by parents who immigrated from the Soviet Union. Russia’s main security agency detained him on March 30 in the city of Yekaterinburg, which is in the Ural mountains north of Kazakhstan. 

Gershkovich, who the WSJ said is accredited by Russia’s foreign ministry to work in the country as a journalist, is accused by the Federal Security Bureau of “acting on the instructions of the American side, collect[ing] information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” the newspaper reported.

Russian media reported that Gershkovich has pleaded not guilty to the charge of espionage. He was ordered to remain in custody until at least May 29.

The White House has denounced the charges and said they are baseless.

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Kremlin has cracked down on press freedom. Last year, the country passed a censorship law that makes it illegal to publish what authorities deem false information about military operations in Ukraine. 

Gershkovich is being detained at Lefortovo Prison, which was a top detention and interrogation site for the Soviet KGB.

He is the first U.S. journalist detained by Russia on espionage charges since U.S. News & World Report journalist Nicholas Daniloff was arrested by the Soviet Union in 1986, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Daniloff spent several weeks in custody but was ultimately allowed to leave Russia uncharged.

In announcing the wrongful detention determination Monday, the State Department also called on Russia to release U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.

Whelan is a former U.S. Marine who was arrested by Russian authorities on espionage charges in December 2018. He’s about three years into a 16-year prison sentence.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, International, Media, Politics

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