The U.S. State Department said Monday that Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was wrongly detained by Russia. Photo courtesy of Evan Gershkovich/LinkedIn
April 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department announced Monday that it has designated reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested last month in Russia, as "wrongly detained."
Gershkovich, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, was detained by Russia's Federal Security Service, or FSB, in late March in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, located more than 1,000 miles east of Moscow.
On Friday, he was formally charged with espionage on accusations of spying on Russia for the United States.
His "wrongly detained" designation was made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and was announced in a brief statement from State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel.
"Journalism is not a crime. We condemn the Kremlin's continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against truth," Patel said.
The designation moves Gershkovich's case to the Office of the Special President Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which is tasked with securing the freedom of U.S. citizens wrongly detained abroad.
In designating an American wrongly detained, the department examines the totality of the circumstances related to their arrest, including the fairness of the judicial process, the veracity of the charges and potential motivations for the person's detainment, according to the office's website.
Last week when asked by reporters if he expected to approve Gershkovich as wrongly detained, Blinken replied that they were working through the process but that he believed the designation was accurate.
"In my own mind, there's no doubt that he's being wrongly detained by Russia," he said during the press conference. "But I want to make sure that -- as always, because there is a formal process -- that we go through it, and we will, and I expect that to be completed soon."
Days earlier, Blinken tweeted he had spoken with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to express "our grave concern over Russia's unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist."
Gershkovich, who was accredited to work in Russia as a reporter, is believed to be the first American journalist to be accused of spying on the Kremlin since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Reporters Without Borders said at the time of his arrest that Gershkovich was investigating the Wagner military company, which has troops on the ground fighting in the Kremlin's war in Ukraine.
"We are doing everything in our power to support Evan and his family and will continue working with the State Department and other relevant U.S. officials to push for his release," Almar Latour, chief executive of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, said in a statement Monday.
"He is a distinguished journalist, and his arrest is an attack on a free press, and it should spur outrage in all free people and governments around the world."
The 31-year-old is not the only American the United States believes has been wrongly jailed in Russia.
Patel, in his Monday statement, also called on Russia to release American Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who has been detained by Moscow for four years and was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison on espionage charges.
According to a report released by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, there are 65 Americans wrongly detained worldwide as of late September.