Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday he has “no doubt” that American journalist Evan Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained in Russia.
Speaking from NATO headquarters in Brussels, where member nations’ foreign minsters have been meeting this week, Blinken told reporters, “In my mind, there is no doubt that he is being wrongfully detained by Russia.”
Blinken added, “In Evan’s case we are working through the determination on wrongful detention. There is a process to do that,” adding, “I’ll let that process play out.”
When the U.S. government formally designates an American as wrongfully detained, it shifts supervision of that person’s case to a specialized State Department section, called the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. That department is focused on negotiating for the release of captives.
On Thursday Russia’s FSB security services said Gershkovich, who reports for the Wall Street Journal, “was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex.”
Despite the Russian Foreign Ministry and the FSB acknowledging that Gershkovich is an accredited journalist in Russia, the 31-year-old American has been charged with espionage, which carries a potential prison sentence in Russia of up to 20 years.
Blinken said he had spoken by phone to his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, about Gershkovich’s arrest, and urged that Russia immediately release the American journalist as well as former U.S. Marine, Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian penal colony on what his family says are fabricated charges of spying.
Conversations, by phone or otherwise, between the two top diplomats have become increasingly rare since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and the U.S. has been supporting Ukraine in its war effort.
In March, during his last, brief face-to-face encounter with Lavrov, Blinken urged the Foreign Minister to accept a proposal for the release of Whelan.
During their latest phone call, the Kremlin said Lavrov told Blinken it was unacceptable for U.S. officials and Western news media to continue “whipping up excitement” and politicizing the journalist’s detention.
Lavrov added, “His further fate will be determined by the court.”
Attorneys for Gershkovich appealed his arrest in a Moscow court on Monday, though a district court in that city had already ruled on Thursday that he should be held behind bars for two months, pending investigation.