Senior U.S. officials said Wednesday they are pressing Russia to immediately release detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters she has spoken with her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia about the case and “expressed our strong, strong demand that [Gershkovich] be released immediately.”
“This is really beyond the pale to use a journalist who had already been accredited in Russia and accuse him of the kind of actions they have accused him of,” she said.
Russian authorities detained Gershkovich on March 29 and accused The Wall Street Journal reporter of espionage.
Gershkovich was able to meet with his lawyers on Tuesday for the first time since that arrest.
The Journal’s editor-in-chief confirmed the meeting in a message to staff on Tuesday.
"Evan's health is good, and he is grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world," Tucker said in the message, viewed by Reuters.
Tucker said the Journal was encouraged by the meeting.
Gershkovich is accused by Russia of espionage, a charge that carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The Journal has denied the charges, and Gershkovich has appealed against his arrest.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday there is “no doubt in his mind” that Gershkovich is wrongfully detained.
During a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Blinken said the U.S. is working “deliberately and expeditiously” to secure his release.
Blinken raised Gershkovich’s case in a rare direct phone call with Russia’s foreign minister on Sunday.
The National Press Club in Washington issued a statement expressing relief that Gershkovich had been able to meet with his lawyer.
Until Tuesday, “the only legal representation provided to [Gershkovich] was from a Russian government attorney,” said the club’s president Eileen O’Reilly, and National Press Club Journalism Institute head Gil Klein.
“That is a situation unworthy of a nation that this week is also the chair of the United Nation’s Security Council,” the National Press Club said.
It said that now that Gershkovich was in contact with his own lawyer, “the important legal work can begin to get [him] home.”
Gershkovich, who has worked in Russia as a journalist since 2017, was detained in Yekaterinburg, a city about 1,300 kilometers east of the Russian capital.
Moscow’s Federal Security Service said he was trying to obtain classified information about an arms factory.
Kremlin officials have said that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed” but have not provided evidence.
At the time of his arrest, Gershkovich had been working for the Journal for just over a year, covering Russia and Ukraine.
His recent stories include coverage of economic problems in Russia, Chinese leader Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow, and the Russian jets that collided with a U.S. drone over the Black Sea.
Before joining the Journal, Gershkovich worked in Moscow for Agence France-Presse and spent three years as a reporter for The Moscow Times. He also was a news assistant at The New York Times.
Gershkovich is being held in Lefortovo prison in Moscow. A Russian state prison monitor was cited in state media as saying that Gershkovich is being held a quarantine cell and has access to a TV, radio and a fridge.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the Biden administration is pressing hard for Gershkovich's release, adding, “It’s got attention all the way up to the Oval Office in terms of how we can get him home.”
Some information for this story is from Reuters. VOA’s Cindy Saine and Margaret Besheer also contributed.