WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate’s top two leaders demanded on Friday that Russia immediately release Evan Gershkovich in a rare bipartisan statement that condemned the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter and declared that “journalism is not a crime.”
The statement from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., comes as the United States is working to swiftly end what it calls the unlawful detention of Gershkovich, the first journalist to be held on alleged espionage since the Cold War.
“We strongly condemn the wrongful detention of U.S. citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and demand the immediate release of this internationally known and respected independent journalist,” Schumer and McConnell said.
They said Gershkovich was accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work as a journalist in Russia and “Russian authorities have failed to present any credible evidence to justify their fabricated charges.”
Schumer and McConnell wrote: “Let there be no mistake: journalism is not a crime.”
U.S. officials are working for the release of Gershkovich, 31, who was arrested late last month and was being held in a Moscow prison. The son of immigrants from the Soviet Union, he grew up speaking Russian at home in Princeton, New Jersey. Russia’s top security agency said Gershkovich was trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.
Gershkovich has been formally charged with espionage in Russia and has entered his official denial, Russian state news agency Tass reported Friday.
President Joe Biden told reporters last Friday that his message to Russia was: “Let him go.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday he has “no doubt” that Russia has wrongfully detained Gershkovich.
On Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne T. Tracy, and Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, met to discuss the situation.
The Wall Street Journal has adamantly denied the allegations against Gershkovich and demanded his release.
The Senate leaders said the U.S. Embassy has been denied consular access “against standard diplomatic practice and likely in violation of international law.”
Schumer and McConnell also said that Russia has a long history of unjustly detaining U.S. citizens, and called for the release of another American, Paul Whelan.
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have said are baseless. He is serving a 16-year sentence.