Evan Gershkovich
Evan Gershkovich was detained by Russia last week and accused without evidence of spying on behalf of the US © The Wall Street Journal/AP

US secretary of state Antony Blinken demanded the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a phone call with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday.

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

Blinken also pressed for the release of Paul Whelan, a former US Marine and a corporate security executive who was convicted in 2020 on espionage charges that he has denied.

Gershkovich, 31, was detained by Russia last week and accused without evidence of spying on behalf of the US government. He is being held in pre-trial detention at the FSB’s notorious Lefortovo prison. US diplomats are pressing to gain access to him to assess his condition and provide him with support.

The WSJ vehemently denies the allegations. The paper, US president Joe Biden and dozens of other leading news organisations have also called for Gershkovich’s immediate release.

The arrest of Gershkovich has sent relations between Moscow and Washington to new lows more than one year since Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Russia last year swapped detained Americans for Russian nationals held in the US in two exchanges, raising the possibility Moscow was preparing for a potential future prisoner trade.

Emma Tucker, WSJ’s editor in chief, said no one from the paper or the US government had been able to make contact with Gershkovich, but she hoped that a lawyer would be able to see him next week.

“We’re hoping that the government will move swiftly to designate Evan as wrongfully detained,” she said. “It’s an official recognition that the charges against Evan are entirely bogus. And once that official recognition comes, things can then move a bit more rapidly.”

Gershkovich grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the son of Jewish émigrés who left the Soviet Union in the 1970s. He joined the WSJ as a reporter last year shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Hundreds of people have sent letters to Gershkovich through a campaign organised by friends, who will translate messages into Russian so he can receive them in prison as required by Russian law.

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