Biden calls on Putin to release journalists Gershkovich, Kurmasheva jailed in Russia


Biden calls on Putin to release journalists Gershkovich, Kurmasheva jailed in Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to release American journalists Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva from Russian prisons, during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner Saturday in Washington.

“Journalism is clearly not a crime,” Biden said. “Putin should release Evan and Alsu immediately.”

Gershkovich, a Russian correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, was arrested in March 2023 on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Earlier this month, his pretrial detention was re-extended until late June.

Wall Street Journal reporter Nancy Youssef calls for the release of her colleague, reporter Evan Gershkovich, as she arrives for the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, April 27, 2024.

Meanwhile, Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian national who works at the Tatar-Bashkir service of VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been jailed since October 2023. She is facing charges of failing to self-register as a so-called “foreign agent” and spreading what Moscow views as false information about the Russian military.

Gershkovich’s family and Kurmasheva’s husband attended the black-tie gala, which was first held more than a century ago.

“We are doing everything we can,” Biden said of U.S. efforts to secure the release of Gershkovich and Kurmasheva.

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stressed the importance of Biden mentioning the imprisoned journalists.

“[Biden] believed it was an opportunity, speaking in front of all of you, to talk about what journalists have to go through and how brave it is for journalists to go out there and deliver — really deliver the news,” she said.

“It is important to lift that up. It is important to speak to that. We believe — and I’ve said this many times from this podium — journalism is not a crime,” Jean-Pierre added.

In Gershkovich’s case, the State Department moved quickly to declare the journalist wrongfully detained, which opens up additional resources to help secure his release.

Press freedom groups, however, have noted that, to date, the State Department has not made the same designation for Kurmasheva.

When asked about the status of Kurmasheva’s designation, Jean-Pierre on Monday referred reporters to the State Department.

“The Department of State continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful,” a State Department spokesperson previously told VOA.

In his address, Biden also mentioned the case of Austin Tice, an American journalist who was kidnapped while reporting in Syria in 2012 and has been held there ever since.

Biden also called for the release of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who is serving a 16-year sentence on spying charges that he and the U.S. government deny.

“We’re not going to give up until we get them home,” Biden said.

VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report.


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