A senior Russian official has announced that a prisoner exchange for American journalist Evan Gershkovich, currently facing espionage charges in Russia, can be considered after a verdict from the Russian court system.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a statement that prisoner exchange negotiations related to the 31-year-old Wall Street Journal correspondent would take place via an already established channel used by Moscow and Washington to hold talks on similar matters in the past.
In a Journal report Friday, Ryabkov indicated the possibility of a prisoner exchange in his interview with the TASS state news agency. Yet, this exchange would take place after the espionage charge against Gershkovich has been decided by Russian courts.
The Russian diplomat stressed a point, saying that “the issue of exchanging anyone can be considered after the court issues its verdict specifically on a particular charge.”
Ryabkov remarked to the Russian news agency that any potential talks concerning Gershkovich’s case and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage charges, would use an existing diplomatic channel previously used for similar exchanges between Moscow and Washington.
“We have a special channel for this, the special services are engaged in this, and they will continue to deal with this issue,” said Ryabkov, as reported by TASS.
The Russian official noted that there would be no need for third-party involvement and that special services are already engaged with this issue – potentially signaling an imminent resolution to what is likely to be another drawn-out legal process within the country which can take over a year in some cases.
WSJ reported the Russian official’s statements on the prisoner swap issue for Gershkovich on the condition of the finality of a verdict on the case. It also quelled hopes for their correspondent’s short-lived detention in a Russian jail.
“In Russia, legal proceedings, including pretrial detention and the actual trial, can sometimes stretch for more than a year,” according to the WSJ report.
Gershkovich’s Wrongful Detention By Russia
“Today, Secretary Blinken made a determination that Evan Gershkovich is wrongfully detained by Russia,” says a State Department press statement issued Monday, referring to Gershkovich’s detention by Russia’s Federal Security Service last March 29, charged with espionage and arrested while on a trip to Yekaterinburg.
Blinken continued, “Journalism is not a crime. We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia and its ongoing war against the truth. The U.S. government will provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family. We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich. We also call on Russia to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.”
The U.S. government has strongly condemned the alleged espionage charges against Gershkovich, an accredited journalist by Russia’s foreign ministry, on pretrial detention.
The Biden administration stands firmly against Gershkovich’s imprisonment, stating that he has been wrongfully arrested and accused of espionage – an allegation both parties vehemently deny.
President Joe Biden declared the correspondent’s arrest as “totally illegal,” with his administration saying that Gerskovich’s detention was “ridiculous” while launching a wide range of pressure efforts from Washington D.C. The decision by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to declare Gershkovich’s detention “wrongful” establishes the official U.S. position that he is being held unfairly and allows Washington to devote more resources to advocating for his release.
The designation transfers the case of the beleaguered journalist’s claim to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, intensifying efforts to secure the release of “wrongful detainees held abroad, support their families, and put an end to the practice of hostage diplomacy.”
Roger Carstens, White House Special Presidential Envoy on Hostage Affairs – specifically appointed to lead this effort toward securing Mr. Gershkovich’s freedom from foreign custody. The U.S. government has “begun in earnest to start sketching out what negotiations might look like, but we’ve yet to get together with them to discuss how we’re going to make this happen and get it done,” said Carstens.
Washington had accused Moscow of violating international law by denying U.S. officials consular access to the reporter. The State Department stated that it is still attempting to contact Gershkovich, but Russian authorities have not granted its requests. Diplomats can communicate with citizens imprisoned in other countries through consular access.
“It is a violation of Russia’s obligations under our consular convention and international law,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel stated in a press briefing last April 10. “We have stressed the need for the Russian government to provide us access as soon as possible,” Patel added.
A shocked international community also called for the journalist’s immediate release.
Media organizations, advocacy groups, and the Wall Street Journal have condemned Gershkovich’s detention, as tensions between Washington and Moscow remained high due to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.
More than three dozen news editors worldwide have signed a letter condemning the arrest of Gershkovich. The Wall Street Journal, for its part, has vehemently denied the allegations against him.
“Gershkovich’s unwarranted and unjust arrest is a significant escalation in your government’s anti-press actions,” says the letter. “Russia is sending the message that journalism within your borders is criminalized and that foreign correspondents seeking to report from Russia do not enjoy the benefits of the rule of law.”
Thirty-eight news editors and several senior executives from the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, and other major news organizations and journalism organizations signed the letter.
Gershkovich’s family also issued a statement on his illegal detention, thanking the U.S. government for supporting the release of the embattled journalist.
“We are encouraged that the State Department has officially designated Evan as wrongfully detained. We appreciate President Biden’s call to us today, assuring us that the U.S. government is doing everything possible to bring him home as quickly as possible,” the family said.
They affirmed that aside from being a distinguished journalist, “Evan is a beloved son and brother. There is a hole in our hearts and our family that won’t be filled until we are reunited. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from his colleagues, friends, and everyone standing with Evan and advocating for his immediate release.”
The Wall Street Journal Condemns Russia’s Detention of Gershkovich
Last April 4, DOW Jones CEO and WSJ PuDow Jones CEO and WSJ Publisher Almar Latour, with WSJ Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker, issued a series of statements condemning the arrest and detention of Gershkovich.
“We stand with Evan and continue to call for his immediate release. Evan is a distinguished journalist who is accredited by the Russian government to report from Russia. He was doing what journalists do – asking questions and providing an eyewitness account in the region to help keep the world well informed. His imprisonment is wholly unjustified and an attack on a free press. We know what’s going on in the world because of the fearless reporting of journalists like Evan. Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world. No reporter should ever be detained for simply doing their job.”
“Our team continues working around the clock in seeking his safe and swift release. The safety of our journalists remains our top priority. We are thankful for the outpouring of support for Evan and The Wall Street Journal from readers, colleagues in the news business, and many others. We are doing everything in our power to bring Evan home safely and will not rest until he is reunited with his family.”
In a separate statement, Tucker said that “the unjust arrest of one of our own sits heavy with all of us” and expressed gratitude regarding the overwhelming support for Gershkovich. “We have come together as an organization and an industry to address this attack on journalism committed to reporting the facts. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for all of you,” the WSJ editor-in-chief said.
“Evan is a member of the free press who, right up until he was arrested, was engaged in newsgathering. Any suggestions otherwise are false. His sole purpose in his work is to capture issues occurring around the world and to shed light on them so that the public can make informed decisions about how to navigate the future,” she added. Thank you for the support you have shown for Evan and his family, thank you for your commitment to each other during these trying days, and most importantly, thank you for your commitment to the integrity of your reporting, “Tucker further said.
“We will carry on doing everything in our power to secure Evan’s release. We are working closely with the State Department and relevant U.S. government officials, as well as legal teams here and in Russia, to ensure Evan is able to get home safely and that his health and well-being are maintained while he is in custody. The Wall Street Journal’s top priority has always been ensuring the protection of our journalists so that they can continue to serve the public through fair and transparent journalism in markets around the world.”
“Your safety and security are what matters most to me, and we will continue to protect that no matter where you may be reporting from. One of the reasons I chose to join The Journal was to be part of the shared and long-held commitment to a free press that has been foundational to our organization and its reporting since its inception.”
“The actions by the Russian government will not deter us from delivering on that mission.”
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