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Lawyers visit U.S. journalist detained in Russia

The Wall Street Journal and the Biden administration have condemned Evan Gershkovich’s arrest.

Lawyers for jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich visited him Tuesday for the first time, according to the newspaper, nearly a week after Russian authorities arrested him on spying allegations. 

“We are encouraged that Evan’s lawyers ... were able to meet with him in prison today,” the Journal’s editor in chief, Emma Tucker, wrote in an email to the newsroom. “Evan’s health is good, and he is grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world. We continue to call for his immediate release.”

The Journal denies the espionage charges against Gershkovich. 

Tucker added: “The legal avenue is one of several avenues we are working to advocate for Evan’s release. We continue to work with the White House, State Department and relevant U.S. government officials to secure Evan’s release.”

U.S. Embassy representatives have been refused consular access, according to the newspaper.

Gershkovich, 31, a reporter of Russian heritage, had “made Russia his second home and was authorized to work in the country,” according to the newspaper. He was on assignment in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, said Dmitry Kolezev, an independent Russian journalist who was familiar with Gershkovich’s plans.

Evan Gershkovich.
Evan Gershkovich.Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP - Getty Images

The newspaper has not released details about Gershkovich’s assignment when he was detained. The Journal did not immediately respond to a request for more details about his assignment.

Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB, said Gershkovich was arrested on suspicion of “espionage in the interests of the American government.” It accused him of collecting “information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

The Journal has strongly denied the charges. In an editorial, it accused the Russian government of taking Gershkovich hostage, calling the espionage allegation “dubious on its face.” 

In a statement Saturday, the Journal described Gershkovich’s detention as a “vicious affront to a free press” that “should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world.”

The U.S. government has called the charges “ridiculous,” with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying Tuesday: “Evan is not a spy. Evan has never been a spy. Evan has never worked for the U.S. government.”

“The State Department has continually attempted to secure consular access to Evan as it relates to the designation of wrongfully detained,” she added.

The U.S. government is preparing to officially declare Gershkovich is wrongfully detained, which would initiate the use of government resources to facilitate his release, according to CNN, citing two unnamed U.S. officials.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that he urged for Gershkovich’s release in a phone call to his Russian counterpart. 

While the Biden administration condemned Gershkovich’s arrest, his colleagues have rallied together to keep his name on the international radar. 

In a show of solidarity at the paper’s office in New York City, Shayndi Raice, the Journal’s deputy bureau chief for Middle East and North Africa, posted on Instagram a photo of Gershkovich’s face projected into the newsroom with the hashtag #IStandWithEvan. 

Everyone was “extremely worried,” Raice said by email. 

“The sentiment in the newsroom is really a fighting spirit, I think,” Raice added. “We’re all mobilizing in every way we can think of to keep Evan’s situation in the national consciousness. We’re working on many different fronts to do this.”

As millions of Jews around the world prepare to mark the eight-day holiday of Passover, commemorating the exodus from slavery in Egypt, Raice helped start an online campaign to encourage Jews to save a seat for Gershkovich at Seder tables Wednesday. 

“Evan is the son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, and I think his story will really resonate around this time of year as so many people are celebrating freedom,” she said. 

Emma Moody, the Journal’s standards and ethics editor, told the newsroom Monday that “there is a tireless diplomatic and legal machine working to free Evan,” adding, “Beyond that, there is a huge communications and amplification plan. ...

“Keep using the phrase ‘I stand with Evan’ and the hashtag #istandwithevan in your tweets or retweets,” she said in the email. 

Before his arrest, Gershkovich thought he had been followed by the FSB on a previous assignment, Kolezev said. Gershkovich may have been trying to report on the Wagner mercenary group and speak to employees at one of the country’s largest tank production facilities, Kolezev said.

After he was detained, Gershkovich was taken to Moscow’s Lefortovo Court and formally arrested. The court ordered that he be detained until May 29, according to the official Telegram channel of the capital’s courts.

Gershkovich denied the charges and has filed an appeal against his arrest, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported.