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U.S. envoy meets with Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russian prison | Press Freedom of the Press

The ambassador said the journalist was “in good health and strong body” as dozens of countries expressed concern over his arrest.

Washington DC – The U.S. ambassador to Russia has visited Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in a Moscow jail, the first time a jailed U.S. journalist has been granted consular access amid calls for his release.

Ambassador Lynn Tracy confirmed on Monday that Gershkovic was “in good health and strong.” Her visit comes a week after Washington formally characterized Gershkovic as “wrongly detained.”

“I visited Evan #Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal today at Lefortovo Prison – the first time we’ve been allowed to see him since he was wrongfully detained over two weeks ago,” Tracy said in a tweet on Monday.

Russia arrested Gershkovich late last month and charged him with espionage, but U.S. officials earlier dismissed the charges as “ridiculous.”

Gershkovich has appealed his detention and a Russian court will hear his case on Tuesday, according to US media reports.

Since Gershkovich’s arrest, U.S. officials have called on Russia to allow consular access, accusing Moscow of violating international law by not allowing U.S. diplomats to communicate with him.

Late Monday, more than 45 countries signed a statement expressing concern over Gershkovich’s arrest and calling on Russia to release prisoners held on “political grounds”.

The countries – mostly Western nations allied with Washington – have also urged Moscow to end what they called a “draconian crackdown on free speech, including members of the media”.

“We protest Russia’s actions to restrict and intimidate the media,” the statement said. “Free, independent and pluralistic media play an integral role in informing people everywhere.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed news of the consular visit to Gershkovich on Monday. She had previously spearheaded efforts to rally support for the reporter.

“We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet him, but we still call for his unconditional release,” Thomas Greenfield said. “He was held unfairly and unjustly, and the Russians need to return him to his family.”

Press freedom groups and the Wall Street Journal also condemned Gershkovich’s detention as tensions continue to rise between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Advocates say Gershkovich’s arrest is part of a broader crackdown on media outlets as Russia advances its invasion of neighboring countries.

But Russian authorities claimed Gershkovich was “caught red-handed and violated the laws of the Russian Federation”. They provided no evidence to support the allegations.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden described Gershkovich’s detention as “completely illegal” and spoke to his family on the phone.

The journalist is now one of two U.S. citizens Washington said were “wrongfully detained” by Moscow. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan was previously sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges that Washington said were false.

Late last year, Russia released American basketball player Brittney Griner in a prisoner exchange that did not include Whelan. Gliner was detained on drug charges days before Russia invaded Ukraine.

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