The US said that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been “wrongfully detained” in Russia and called for his immediate release.
The “wrongfully detained” designation in the US means the case will now be transferred to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, reports the BBC.
This will raise the profile of the case and allow the government to allocate more resources to securing his release.
At his regular press briefing, the State Department’s Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken “made a determination that Evan Gershkovich is wrongfully detained by Russia”.
He called for the “immediate release” of the 31-year-old reporter and condemned “the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth”.
Regarding consular access to Gershkovich, the spokesman told the reporters said: “We are still continuing to seek consular access. At this point, it is a violation of Russia’s obligations under our consular convention and a violation against international law. We have stressed the need for the Russian government to provide this access as soon as possible…
“We believe that it is a matter of human dignity to ensure that Gershkovich can meet with consular officers.”
Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry had said the issue of consular access was being resolved but added that the “fuss in the US about this case, which was aimed at pressurising the Russian authorities… was hopeless and senseless”.
Gershkovich, who is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s Foreign Ministry, was detained late last month in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg for “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex”, according to officials in Moscow.
Russia’s intelligence agency Federal Security Service (FSB) has opened a criminal case against the US citizen under Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Espionage”).
This is the first such case of an American journalist detained in Russia over spying allegations since the Cold War.
Espionage in Russia carries a maximum jail term of 20 years.
The Wall Street Journal has rubbished the spying allegations, reports the BBC.
In a statement on Monday, the newspaper said: “The distinction will unlock additional resources and attention at the highest levels of the US government in securing his release. We are doing everything in our power to support Evan and his family.”
According to a report by the James Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for the freedom of Americans being held hostage abroad, at least 65 Americans were being unfairly detained abroad in 2022.
The foundation is named after the US journalist abducted in Syria and killed by the Islamic State terror group in 2014.