The United States is working through the process to determine whether Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich’s detention by Russia is “wrongful”, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, adding it would soon be completed.
“It’s something that we’re working through very deliberately, but expeditiously as well. And I’ll let that process play out,” Blinken said in a news conference in Brussels.
“In my own mind, there’s no doubt that he’s being wrongfully detained by Russia, which is exactly what I said to Foreign Minister Lavrov when I spoke to him over the weekend and insisted that Evan be released immediately,” Blinken said.
Russia’s FSB security service said on March 30 it had arrested Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, and accused him of gathering information about a Russian defence company that was a state secret.
The Wall Street Journal has denied Gershkovich was spying. The White House has called the espionage charge, which carries a prison term of up to 20 years, “ridiculous.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has called for Gershkovich’s release and on Sunday Blinken in a telephone call with his Russian counterpart Lavrov raised Washington’s concerns over the reporter’s “unacceptable detention.”
The “wrongfully detained” designation means the responsibility for the case would be transferred from the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs to the office of the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, raising the issue’s political profile and allowing the government to allocate more resources to securing Gershkovich’s release.
Legislation passed by Congress in 2020 lists 11 criteria to help determine whether a U.S. citizen is “wrongfully detained.” The U.S. Secretary of State uses these criteria to make the designation, but a case does not need to fulfill all 11 points to merit the label.
The list of criteria includes, among other things, that the individual is being targeted primarily because they are an American citizen or that the detention is intended to influence U.S. government policy.
Another factor is whether the individual is being held in “inhumane conditions” or was detained in a country where the U.S. mission has received credible reports that the detention is merely a pretext.
The Biden administration has secured the release of at least 25 “wrongfully detained” Americans. More than 30 other U.S. citizens are still being held abroad with that designation.