US Designates Wall Street Journal Reporter as ‘Wrongfully Detained’ in Russia, Stepping Up Effort to Free Him

Evan Gershkovich was arrested during a reporting trip on March 29

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested in Russia Wednesday.

The U.S. has officially determined that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is “wrongfully detained in Russia,” a declaration that launches a broad U.S. government effort to pressure Moscow to set him free.

“Journalism is not a crime,” the State Department said in a statement. “We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth.”

“We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich,” the statement said.

Gershkovich, 31, was arrested March 29 in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip. Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, a successor to the Soviet KGB, accused Gershkovich of trying to obtain classified information on behalf of the U.S. government, stating that “acting on the instructions of the American side, [he] collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

Gershkovich was taken to Moscow and appeared in court with a state-sponsored defense attorney on March 30, where he pleaded not guilty.

The Journal reported Tuesday that with the declaration that Gerskovich was wrongfully detained, his case now shifts to a State Department section known as the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, “which is focused on negotiating for the release of hostages and other Americans classified as wrongfully detained in foreign countries.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that he didn’t understand what changes the designation might bring, The Journal reported.

“What it means — I don’t know,” he said. “The United States could and should protect the rights of its citizen who was caught red-handed [and] violated the relevant laws of the Russian Federation. He is suspected of such. Naturally, the decision will be made by the court. [That’s] all there is to say.”

Officials told The Journal that the administration reached the designation at an “unprecedented” speed, despite a bureaucratic process that typically takes months. “The designation seldom comes before the detainee is able to meet with American consular officials from the local embassy, a right Mr. Gershkovich has thus far been denied,” The Journal reported.

“While this case has moved at a record pace, it still took almost two weeks for our government to make this determination. We must do more to streamline the process—especially as it relates to journalists,” Eileen O’Reilly, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said in a joint statement to The Journal. “We believe it is always a wrongful detention when a journalist is held for doing their job.”

The U.S. also called on Russia to release U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was sentenced in 2020 on espionage charges to 16 years in a Russian penal colony. The 53-year-old’s family maintains that the charges are untrue.