WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a rare joint statement on Friday decrying Russia’s arrest of a Wall Street Journal report last week on what are believed to be bogus espionage charges.
“We strongly condemn the wrongful detention of US citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and demand the immediate release of this internationally known and respected independent journalist,” the top Senate Democrat and Republican said.
Gershkovich, 31, was detained in Yekaterinburg, a city in the Ural Mountains about 900 miles east of Moscow, while on a reporting trip on March 29 in the most serious public move by the Kremlin against a foreign journalist since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
“Mr. Gershkovich was accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work as a journalist in Russia,” Schumer and McConnell said. “Since his arrest, Russian authorities have failed to present any credible evidence to justify their fabricated charges.”
Russia’s FSB security service on March 30 said it had opened a criminal case against Gershkovich, accusing him of spying for the US and gathering information classified as a state secret about a military factory, which it did not specify.
Authorities have so far denied the reporter consular access to the US embassy as it holds him at the Federal Security Service’s Lefortovo prison in Moscow, which the lawmakers said is “against the standard diplomatic practice and likely in violation of international law.”
“Russia has a long and disturbing history of unjustly detaining US citizens in a judicial system that provides neither transparency nor justice,” Schumer and McConnell wrote. “Let there be no mistake: journalism is not a crime.”
“We demand the baseless, fabricated charges against Mr. Gershkovich be dropped and he be immediately released and reiterate our condemnation of the Russian government’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress and punish independent journalists and civil society voices,” they added.
The influential senators also called for Russia to release Paul Whelan, a US citizen who was also arrested on espionage charges more than four years ago and was later convicted.
The Marine veteran is being held at the same prison where Gershkovich was taken and continues to claim his innocence.
“The Kremlin should release Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich now,” Schumer and McConnell said.
Their statement comes after Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday said he believed there was “no doubt” Moscow wrongfully detained Gershkovich.
“It’s something that we’re working through very deliberately, but expeditiously as well. And I’ll let that process play out,” Blinken said at a press conference in Brussels.
In December, Russia released WNBA player Brittney Griner, who had been arrested and convicted on drug charges after being caught flying into Moscow with a marijuana vape cartridge earlier that year.
In return, the US gave up notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
President Biden was criticized for not demanding that Whelan be included in the prisoner swap, but White House officials said a one-for-one swap was all that Russia was willing to discuss.
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