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‘Let him go’: US demands reporter release

Political pressure is mounting on Russia to release a US journalist being held by Moscow on espionage charges.

Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal was detained by security agents in Russia on Wednesday – a move that led US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to call his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to demand his “immediate release”.

But Russia has so far ignored the calls and accused the US of “hype”.

Mr Blinken “conveyed the United States’ grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a US citizen journalist. The Secretary called for his immediate release,” spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement.

Gershkovichn is believed to be the first foreign journalist held for spying in post-Soviet Russia, and his arrest is expected to escalate the Kremlin’s confrontation with the West amid Moscow’s campaign in Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden also called for Gershkovich’s release but has not yet acted a call from the Wall Street Journal editorial board to expel Russian journalists from the United States.

Asked by White House reporters what his message was to Russia regarding Gershkovich, Mr Biden said: “Let him go.”

In response, Russia’s Foreign Minister condemned Western “hype” over the arrest of Gershkovich, dismissing the latest call for his release and saying his fate would be decided in court.

Mr Lavrov said Gershkovich had been “trying to receive secret information” when he was arrested this week.

“Under the cover of his journalist status, he was collecting information classified as a state secret,” Russia’s foreign ministry said Mr Lavrov told Mr Blinken.

“A court will determine his future fate,” Mr Lavrov was quoted as saying in the statement from the foreign ministry.

During the conversation, “it was underlined that officials in Washington and Western media should refrain from stirring up hype intended to give the case a political tinge,” the ministry said.

Gershkovich, 31, who previously worked for The Moscow Times and AFP, was arrested in Yekaterinburg, about 1,800 kilometres east of Moscow.

According to Russian state news agency TASS, Mr Gershkovich denied the charges against him at a court hearing in Moscow on Thursday.

He was remanded in custody until May 29 pending trial.

The case has been classified as “secret”, TASS reported, which restricts information that can be published about it.

The arrest has drawn outrage from the West and is being seen as a serious escalation of Moscow’s sweeping crackdown on the media.

“The timing of the arrest looks like a calculated provocation to embarrass the US and intimidate the foreign press still working in Russia,” the Wall Street Journal’s board of opinion editors said.

The White House has condemned the allegations as “ridiculous” and has warned Americans currently in Russia to leave for their own safety.

“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr Gershkovich in the strongest terms,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement this week.

Several other US citizens are in jail including Paul Whelan, a former Marine, who was arrested in 2018 and handed a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that he denies.

Originally published as US demands Russia releases Wall St Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich

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