Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday issued a rare joint statement calling on Russia to release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained last week and charged with espionage.
“We strongly condemn the wrongful detention of U.S. citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, and demand the immediate release of this internationally known and respected independent journalist,” the Senate leaders said in a statement.
“Since his arrest, Russian authorities have failed to present any credible evidence to justify their fabricated charges,” they said, adding the U.S. Embassy has been denied access to him since his March 29 arrest.
Gershkovich was arrested during a reporting trip to the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg last week. He was an accredited journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed Gershkovich “was caught red-handed while trying to obtain classified information, using his journalistic status as a cover for illegal actions qualifying as espionage.”
The White House says he is not a spy and the Journal has reiterated that he was there on a reporting trip.
According to the Journal, lawyers were able to meet with Gershkovich on Tuesday and relayed that he is in good health. He is being held at Lefortovo prison in Moscow, which has been reported to be one of the most isolating prison experiences in the country.
Schumer and McConnell also noted that Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine, remains imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges and should be released immediately as well.
“Russia has a long and disturbing history of unjustly detaining U.S. citizens in a judicial system that provides neither transparency nor justice. Indeed, even now, the Kremlin continues to wrongfully detain U.S. citizen Paul Whelan,” the senators said. “The Kremlin should release Mr. Whelan and Mr. Gershkovich now.”
“Let there be no mistake: journalism is not a crime,” they continued. “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.”