In a speech at the annual White House Association Correspondents’ dinner, the president said his administration was “working every day” to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich.
President Biden has called for the release of Evan Gershkovich, an American Wall Street Journal reporter imprisoned in Russia, praising his courage and saying the United States was working tirelessly to bring him home.
Mr. Gershkovich was detained in Russia last month and accused of espionage, a charge that his employer and the United States emphatically reject. The State Department this month designated the journalist as “wrongfully detained,” signifying that the U.S. government sees him as the equivalent of a political hostage.
In a speech at the annual White House Association Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday, Mr. Biden spoke of Mr. Gershkovich’s “absolute courage” and said everyone at the event stood with the reporter.
“We’re working every day to secure his release, looking at opportunities and tools to bring him home. We keep the faith,” Mr. Biden said told the audience. “Our message is this: Journalism is not a crime.”
Mr. Gershkovich’s case represents the most significant attack on international journalists in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year. It is also the first time that a Western journalist in Russia has been charged with espionage since the end of the Cold War.
In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Biden asserted the importance of a free press worldwide and also spoke of Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who disappeared in Syria in August 2012, soon after the country’s civil war began. It is believed that, since then, he has been held captive by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Evan and Austin should be released immediately along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad,” Mr. Biden said. Debra and Marc Tice, the parents of Mr. Tice, wrote an opinion article, published in The Washington Post last August, in which they urged Mr. Biden to step up diplomatic efforts to free him.
Mr. Biden also called for the release of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia on what the United States says are fabricated charges of espionage, and addressed Brittney Griner, a W.N.B.A. star who was freed in a prisoner swap in December after being detained for nearly 10 months in Russia. He said that he was looking forward to seeing Ms. Griner, who was in attendance at the dinner, play basketball professionally again.
U.S. officials are concerned that the arrest and charges against Mr. Gershkovich, 31, signal an even more severe Kremlin crackdown on independent news outlets and the free flow of information within Russia. This month, in another escalation, a Moscow court sentenced Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Kremlin critic and Washington Post contributor, to 25 years in prison, an unusually harsh sentence that is longer than what is often given for murder.
Mr. Gershkovich appeared in court in Moscow on April 18, the first time he had been seen in public since being detained. At the hearing, a judge denied Mr. Gershkovich’s appeal to lift his pretrial detention. Mr. Gershkovich was ordered back to Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
After the ruling, one of Mr. Gershkovich’s lawyers, Maria Korchagina, told reporters that he was ready to “assert his right for free journalism” and “to defend himself.”