The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Wednesday called on Moscow to immediately release American journalist Evan Gershkovich.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia's actions were "beyond cruel" and "a violation of international law."
Gershkovich has been detained in Russia since March 29 on espionage charges that he and his publication, The Wall Street Journal, deny. The Moscow-based reporter was arrested while on assignment in the eastern city of Yekaterinburg.
In her remarks, Thomas-Greenfield urged the international community and U.N. member states to "stand with us, to stand on the side of justice, and to condemn Russia's flagrant violations of international law."
"No family should have to watch their loved one being used as a political pawn, and that's exactly what [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is doing," Thomas-Greenfield added.
Russia's embassy in Washington did not respond to an email from VOA requesting comment.
Gershkovich's parents and his sister also joined Thomas-Greenfield at the U.N. on Wednesday. They spoke of the emotional toll of the more than five months' imprisonment.
"We are still in shock. Every day is a day too long. I miss him every day," said Ella Milman, Gershkovich's mother. "He cares deeply about people. His reporting has kept the world informed. And we all miss reading his stories."
On Tuesday, lawyers representing the Journal's publisher Dow Jones requested that the U.N.'s working group on arbitrary detention declare Gershkovich arbitrarily detained and push Russia to release him immediately.
The U.S. government has already declared the journalist wrongfully detained.
If the U.N. determines that Gershkovich's detention is arbitrary, it would publish an opinion on the matter and issue recommendations to the Kremlin, according to the Journal.
With heads of state convening at the U.N. General Assembly this month, Mikhail Gershkovich, Evan's father, said, "We urge all world leaders to stand with Evan and what he represents."
"The basic right of free press and freedom of expression — these rights are bedrock principles of the United Nations," he added at the press conference.
In response to a question about a potential prisoner swap, Thomas-Greenfield said she couldn't share details.
"We are working around the clock. We're working diligently to have Evan, as well as others who have been wrongfully detained, released," she said.
She also called for the release of American businessman and former Marine Paul Whelan, whom Russia sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges, which Whelan and the U.S. government deny.
Gershkovich's sister, Danielle, said that instead of advocating for her brother's release, the family should be planning for his next visit home.
"Evan should be doing the important work of helping people understand matters in the world that affect us all," she said.
"Instead, we are here to remind the world that Evan is innocent, and journalism is not a crime. We ask that world leaders help find a solution to secure Evan's release," she said. "If this can happen to my brother, it can happen to any journalist trying to report the news."
Gershkovich's arrest came as Russia imposed an even tougher crackdown on independent media after its invasion of Ukraine.
Shortly after the war, Moscow introduced new laws defining how media could cover the conflict, which carry hefty prison sentences.
Two weeks ago, it labeled the Nobel laureate and renowned Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov a foreign agent.
In early September, a court in Russia sentenced a journalist to five and a half years in prison for spreading what authorities said was fake news about the armed forces, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The country ranks 164 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, where 1 shows the best media environment, according to Reporters Without Borders.