The United States has officially designated a jailed American newspaper reporter held in Russia as “wrongfully detained,” a move that allows the U.S. Department of State to exert more pressure on the country to release him.
The designation comes about two weeks after Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested while eating at a restaurant in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg while on assignment for the newspaper.
Despite the State Department’s numerous warnings against travel to Russia, Gershkovich was covering the ongoing military situation in Ukraine from the front lines, among other matters involving Russia.
Officials in Russia have accused Gershkovich of conducting illegal surveillance in the country and have charged him with various espionage-related offenses. The country has offered up no concrete evidence to prove Gershkovich was engaged in any surveillance on behalf of a foreign state; instead, it appears Gershkovich was targeted for his reporting.
On Monday, a spokesperson for the State Department said it condemned “the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia and its ongoing war against the truth.
“Journalism is not a crime,” Vedant Patel, the principal deputy spokesperson for the State Department, said.
U.S. officials renewed their call for Russia to immediately release Gershkovich. They also urged the country to free Paul Whelan, an American citizen and former U.S. Marine who was jailed for 16 years after a sham trial on similar espionage charges.
The designation of Gershkovich as a wrongfully-detained person was accelerated in part because of his status as a well-respected journalist working for one of the most-prominent news organizations in the country. Last week, the Journal removed its $30-a-month paywall from stories written by Gershkovich.