Updated Apr 10, 2023 - World

U.S. officially says Russia "wrongfully detained" WSJ's Evan Gershkovich

Journalist Evan Gershkovich in July 2021. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

Journalist Evan Gershkovich in July 2021. Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department said on Monday that Secretary of State Tony Blinken has formally determined Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was "wrongfully detained" by Russia.

Why it matters: The formal determination transfers supervision of the case to the State Department's Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which will work with other government and non-government agencies and organizations to "develop a strategy to secure" Gershkovich's release.

The big picture: Blinken had earlier said there was "no doubt" that Gershkovich had been wrongfully detained, but the case had to go through the State Department determination process.

  • Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges in late March — the first time Russia detained a U.S. journalist on spying charges since the Cold War.
  • The Wall Street Journal has said it "vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich."

What they're saying: "Journalism is not a crime," State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement announcing Blinken's determination.

  • "We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth," the statement added.
  • "The U.S. government will provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family. We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich."
  • The U.S. also called on Russia to release "wrongfully detained" U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, who has been jailed since December 2018 on charges of espionage — allegations the U.S. rejects.

State of play: Patel told reporters earlier Monday that Russia did notify the Biden administration that Gershkovich was detained, but has not granted U.S. consular officials access to the reporter as required by a 1964 treaty between the U.S. and then-Soviet Union.

  • "At this point, it is a violation of Russia's obligations under our consular convention and a violation against international law," Patel said during a press briefing. "We have stressed the need for the Russian government to provide this access as soon as possible."

Background: Gershkovich has worked at the WSJ since January 2022 as part of the paper's Moscow bureau, where he helped cover the war in Ukraine, Russia, and other former Soviet states.

  • Russia's FSB acknowledged in a statement that Gershkovich was accredited as a journalist by Russia's foreign ministry, per RIA Novosti.

Go deeper: How Putin's truth lockdown challenges the promise of an open internet

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel.

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