'Very intense effort' ongoing to secure Evan Gershkovich's release from Russian detention

Family express hope as Wall Street Journal and US government push to bring him home

An electronic billboard at New York's Times Square marks the anniversary of the imprisonment in Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. AFP
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US President Joe Biden and Wall Street Journal staff on Friday marked one year since American journalist Evan Gershkovich was detained by Russian authorities, as a “very intense effort” to secure his release continues.

“This year has been unimaginable for our family in so many ways. It has felt like holding our breath,” the Gershkovich family wrote in a letter that was published in the Journal.

But despite this long battle, we are still standing strong. This is thanks to Evan’s courage and the help and support of the incredible people around us.”

Mr Biden expressed his solidarity with the family and said the US government is “working every day to secure his release”.

“Journalism is not a crime, and Evan went to Russia to do his job as a reporter – risking his safety to shine the light of truth on Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine,” he said in a statement released by the White House.

The front page of Friday's Journal was largely blank, with the headline, “His story should be here”, in protest at Gershkovich's detention.

Almar Latour, publisher of the Journal and chief executive of Dow Jones, told Politico in an interview that the newspaper's leadership is actively working with the US administration on a “very intense effort” to free Gershkovich.

Mr Latour also disclosed that the company has retained a law firm that specialises in hostage affairs, clarifying that there were a number of behind-the-scenes channels open, working to ensure the journalist's release.

Gershkovich became the first western journalist arrested for espionage in Russia since the Cold War when he was taken into custody a year ago.

Moscow claims he was trying to get military secrets, while the Journal has denied he is a spy.

He has been seen in several court appearances and his detention was recently extended to June 30, pending trial.

Mr Biden shared a story about Gershkovich writing a letter to his parents, saying he was “not losing hope”.

Jailed US journalist makes first public appearance in Russian court

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023.  (AP Photo / Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“As I have told Evan’s parents, I will never give up hope either. We will continue working every day to secure his release,” the President said.

The US government has declared the journalist's detention to be wrongful.

Mr Biden threatened to “impose costs” on Moscow for using “Americans as bargaining chips”.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanded that Russia “end its practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals for political leverage and should immediately release” Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American being held in Russia.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a news editor with dual US-Russian citizenship, has also been detained in Russia.

Moscow has used detentions and imprisonment to demand for the release of Russians arrested elsewhere, or for political power with other countries.

Basketball star Brittney Griner was freed in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in 2022.

The Journal's front page on Friday featured a large blank space and Gershkovich's name, including text reading “his story should be here”.

Updated: March 29, 2024, 7:16 PM