NATIONAL NEWS

Biden says he’s working to secure release of Wall Street Journal reporter held for a year in Russia

Mar 29, 2024, 6:05 AM | Updated: 12:24 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — On the one-year anniversary of the Russian detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, President Joe Biden said the U.S. is working every day to secure his release.

“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,” Biden said in a statement Friday.

Biden told reporters later Friday that he held Gershkovich in high regard.

“I admire the hell out of him,” Biden said before he traveled from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Camp David presidential retreat. “We’re not giving up.”

Gershkovich was arrested while on a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, alleges he was acting on U.S. orders to collect state secrets but provided no evidence to support the accusation, which he, the Journal and the U.S. government deny. Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

On Friday, there was a giant blank space on the front page of The Wall Street Journal, with an image at the top of the page of Gershkovich in the newspaper’s signature pencil drawing and a headline that read: “His Story Should be Here.”

A recent court hearing offered little new information on Gershkovich’s case. He was ordered to remain behind bars pending trial at least until June 30, the fifth extension of his detention.

But the periodic court hearings at least give Gershkovich’s family and friends and U.S. officials a glimpse of him. And for the 32-year-old journalist, it’s a break from his otherwise largely monotonous prison routine.

Biden said in the statement that he would never give up hope.

“We will continue working every day to secure his release,” the Democratic president said. “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 said that the U.S. was working to free all Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.

Another American accused of espionage is Paul Whelan, a corporate executive from Michigan. He was arrested in 2018 in Russia and sentenced two years later to 16 years in prison. Whelan, who said he traveled to Moscow to attend a friend’s wedding, has maintained his innocence and said the charges against him were fabricated.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that both Gershkovich and Whelan have “remained resilient despite the circumstances of living in Russian detention.”

“People are not bargaining chips,” Blinken said. “Russia should end its practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals for political leverage and should immediately release Evan and Paul.”

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