U.S. slams Russia for reporter arrest, tells Americans to leave
March 31, 2023 Updated Fri., March 31, 2023 at 8:26 p.m.
German Press Agency
WASHINGTON – The United States on Thursday strongly condemned Moscow’s decision to detain a Wall Street Journal reporter, saying Russia is not a safe country for Americans and those there should leave immediately.
The travel advice came after a Moscow court arrested reporter Evan Gershkovich on Thursday, saying he was spying for the U.S. Russian officials said they would keep the reporter in detention until at least May 29th.
“I want to strongly reiterate that Americans should heed the U.S. government’s warning to not travel to Russia, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately, as the State Department continues to advise,” she added.
In a statement, the White House said Russia’s targeting of American citizens is “unacceptable” and it condemns Gershkovich’s detention “the strongest terms.”
The journalist was detained in Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains 1,460 kilometers (970 miles) east of Moscow.
Gershkovich was trying to write a report about the population’s attitude toward the Wagner private army’s recruitment attempts, according to media report. The Wagner army is deployed in Russia’s war against Ukraine, which Moscow started 13 months ago.
The State Department is in direct contact with the Russian government and is actively seeking to provide Gershkovich with consular access, Jean-Pierre said.
The Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the allegations, called for his release and said it was concerned about his welfare.
“We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the newspaper said.
The human rights organization Reporters Without Borders called the journalist’s arrest “worrying.”
“Journalists must not be targeted,” the organization demanded.
Gershkovich, born in 1991, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The Russian legal system is considered highly politicized and charges nearly always lead to convictions.
The Russian domestic intelligence service FSB said it detained the U.S. reporter for “espionage in the interests of the American government.”
The spy agency said Gershkovich had collected information on the military-industrial complex in Russia on behalf of the U.S. side.
“As far as we know, he was caught red-handed,” Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told state radio on Thursday. The Sverdlovsk region around Yekaterinburg is considered one of the strongholds of Russia’s arms industry.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova used the case as an opportunity to accuse Western correspondents in general of spying on Russia under the guise of journalism. Zakharova said what Gershkovich dealt with in Yekaterinburg had nothing to do with journalism.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first case where the status of a foreign correspondent, journalist visa and accreditation of foreigners in our country are used to disguise an activity that is not journalism,” she said on Telegram.
Zakharova also repeatedly complains that Russian journalists are subject to repression in the West, including in Germany. Only last week, she publicly warned of steps against German correspondents in Moscow should the German government exert pressure against Russians.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine 13 months ago, Moscow has once again significantly restricted freedom of expression and freedom of the press in the country. There is also the threat of legal proceedings for discrimination or damage to the reputation of the Russian army.
Some correspondents and media temporarily stopped working last year after the war began for fear of repression. The number of Western journalists has decreased because many media can’t get their reporters accredited.
Americans are repeatedly suspected of espionage or other crimes in Russia, though this may be the first espionage case against a journalist officially accredited to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The Russian opposition called it a “hostage-taking,” the team of jailed Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny said.
It said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is ready to use any method to put pressure on the West.”
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