Joe Biden has praised the “absolute courage” of Evan Gershkovich, the US journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges, and reiterated calls on Moscow for his immediate release.
The US president said the Wall Street Journal reporter, who is the first correspondent since the cold war to be detained in Russia on spying charges, sought to “shed light on the darkness” of the country and said American efforts to get him home would not cease.
Biden, speaking at an annual dinner for White House correspondents on Saturday night, directly addressed the parents of Gershkovich, who were in the room and were given standing ovations by the more than 2,000 attendees.
“We all stand with you. Evan went to Russia to shed light on the darkness that you all escaped from, years ago. Absolute courage … to the entire family, everyone in this hall stands with you. We’re working every day to secure his release,” said Biden, noting the journalist’s letter to his parents that said he was “not losing hope”.
Some guests at the Washington Hilton function wore buttons with “Free Evan” printed on them. The US has previously declared Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained, signalling that it views the espionage charges against him as bogus and that he is being held as a hostage.
This week Russia’s foreign ministry denied a request from the US for a consular visit to Gershkovich, saying it was rejected in retaliation for the US refusing to grant visas to Russian journalists planning to accompany the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on a trip to the UN. Gershkovich has been in custody since 29 March.
Attendees to Saturday’s gala also included Debra Tice, the mother of Austin Tice, who has not been heard from since disappearing at a checkpoint in Syria in 2012. US officials say they operate under the assumption that he is alive and are working to try to bring him home.
“Journalism is not a crime,” said Biden. “Evan and Austin should be released immediately, along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.
“I promise, I am working like hell to bring them home.”
The president also had warm words for Brittney Griner, who attended with her wife Cherelle. “I love this woman … this time last year we were praying for you, hoping you knew how hard all of us were fighting for your release. It’s great to have you home .. I can hardly wait to see you back on the court, kid.”
The WNBA star endured a nearly 10-month detainment in Russia on drug-related charges. Griner was arrested in February 2022 at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities said a search of her luggage revealed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil. She later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
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