Jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich on Friday marks his 100th day in detention in Russia on espionage accusations.
The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested March 29 while on assignment in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. Russian authorities have accused the Moscow-based reporter of spying.
Gershkovich, the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny the espionage charges.
Media watchdogs say his arrest marked a new low in Russia's declining press freedom environment under President Vladimir Putin.
"Evan's detention marked a new escalation in Putin's war on the free press, expanding his crackdown beyond Russia's domestic media which has already been totally hollowed out," Clayton Weimers, executive director of the U.S. office of Reporters Without Borders, told VOA.
"One hundred days in jail is 100 days too long to punish a journalist for simply doing journalism," he said.
The first American reporter to be charged with espionage in Russia since the end of the Cold War, Gershkovich faces 20 years in a penal colony if convicted.
"It is vital to keep Evan's story front and center, particularly as we reflect on this difficult milestone," The Wall Street Journal said in a statement.
The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Moscow and Washington have discussed a possible prisoner swap, in an apparent reference to the American journalist and Vladimir Dunaev, a Russian citizen in U.S. custody on cybercrime charges.
"We have said that there have been certain contacts on the subject, but we don't want them to be discussed in public," spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, without naming any specific detainee. "They must be carried out and continue in complete silence."
Peskov added that "the lawful right to consular contacts must be ensured on both sides."
In response to a question Wednesday about a potential prisoner swap, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "Sadly, we do not have any news to share."
"What I can say is Evan, along with Paul Whelan, who are both wrongfully detained, as you know, should be home. They should be home with their families. I just don't have anything to share at this time," she added.
Whelan, a former U.S. marine, is also detained in Russia on espionage charges that the U.S. views as baseless.
Russia's Washington embassy did not respond to VOA's email requesting comment.
Gershkovich's detention has taken a toll on his friends and colleagues in the community of journalists who cover Russia.
"Knowing that it's been 100 days that Evan has been in Lefortovo prison, an FSB-run prison that is very isolating, known for being really psychologically challenging for its inmates — it's just really hard to know that Evan has been in those circumstances for so long already," Financial Times reporter Polina Ivanova told VOA.
Ivanova has known Gershkovich since 2017, when they both started reporting jobs in Moscow — Gershkovich at the Moscow Times and Ivanova at Reuters.
"It's a very tight-knit community, so we've always been good friends," said Ivanova, now based in Berlin and still covering Russia and Ukraine.
Since Gershkovich's arrest in March, the journalist has been granted only two consular visits.
The latest visit took place Monday, when U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy was allowed to visit Gershkovich for the first time since April.
"Ambassador Tracy reports that Mr. Gershkovich is in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances," a State Department spokesperson said about the latest visit. "We expect Russian authorities to provide continued consular access."
In a statement about Gershkovich's 100-day marker, the press freedom group the Committee to Protect journalists said it was concerned about the lack of due process and the denial of consular access to the journalist.
"One hundred days is obviously just incredibly difficult to get your head around — to imagine yourself in such a small space for so long with so little contact with the outside world," Ivanova said.
Gershkovich's original pre-trial detention was set to expire on May 29, but a Russian court lengthened that period to August 30.