US State Department designates journalist arrested in Russia as ‘wrongfully detained’ News
Photos: Evan Gershkovich // Facebook, Flickr
US State Department designates journalist arrested in Russia as ‘wrongfully detained’

The US State Department Monday designated Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” in Russia. The new designation signals an escalation in US efforts to secure the release of Gershkovich as new reports circulate that Russian authorities are preventing US officials from speaking with the WSJ journalist.

“Journalism is not a crime,” said Vedant Patel, Principal Deputy Spokesperson for the US State Department. “We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth.”

Designating Gershkovich as wrongfully detained begins the process of diplomatic maneuvering to bring Gershkovich back to the US. Although there are legal limits to what the US government can do to protect US nationals detained abroad, this new designation will open up new avenues for US officials to attempt to secure the journalist’s release.

Speaking to the press on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Gershkovich’s detention itself as well as Russia’s refusal to allow US officials to provide consular services to the detained journalist. Saying that this refusal not only breaks Russia’s obligations under international law, but also damages its diplomatic standing, Blinken reaffirmed the US’s commitment to Gershkovich’s release: “We are engaged every single day in pressing for that access and pressing for Evan’s release.”

Gershkovich’s March arrest on espionage charges marked the first Russian arrest of a US journalist for espionage since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia’s Federal Security Bureau (FSB) alleges that Gershkovich was spying on Russia’s military-industrial complex on behalf of the United States but has otherwise been slow to release details, deeming the issues “top secret.” Gershkovich himself has vehemently denied all charges and filed an appeal.

WSJ has stood steadfastly by the side of their reporter, calling the arrest “a vicious affront to a free press” that “should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world.” Other media groups and journalists’ rights groups have issued similar statements of solidarity as well, with the Committee for the Protection of Journalists sending a letter to Russia’s US Ambassador. In the letter, the groups said that “Gershkovich’s unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in [Russia]’s anti-press actions. Russia is sending the message that journalism within [its] borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law.”

Gershkovich’s arrest came as governments around the world are making it increasingly difficult and dangerous for journalists to do their jobs. Russia is no exception to this, with 19 journalists being detained in Russia in 2022, making it one of the top 10 riskiest countries for reporters. In the meantime, US officials have stressed that they will continue working to secure Gershkovich’s release and warned US nationals not to travel to Russia.