At WHCA Dinner, Biden Calls for Release of Journalist Evan Gershkovich and Others Detainees

From a Wall Street Journal story by John McCormick headlined “Biden Calls for Release of Jailed Journalist Evan Gershkovich, Other Detainees”:

President Biden and others at an annual Washington dinner called for the release of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia during a gathering that brought together members of the media, government officials and celebrities to celebrate press freedom.

Mr. Biden met privately with Mr. Gershkovich’s family, who attended the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as Journal guests, as he arrived for Saturday’s black-tie gala and recognized them again in his remarks.

“Evan went to report in Russia to shed light on the darkness,” Mr. Biden said. “Everyone in this hall stands with you. We are working every day to secure his release, looking at opportunities and tools to bring him home.”

The gathering, a century-old tradition that drew more than 2,000 attendees, included members of the media, administration officials, members of Congress, celebrities, campaign operatives and others. Joining Mr. Biden was Vice President Kamala Harris and both of their spouses.

Mr. Gershkovich, 31 years old, was detained March 29 by security services and is being held in Russia on an allegation of espionage that The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. The State Department has designated him as “wrongfully detained” and launched a broad effort to pressure Russia to free him.

The Biden administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on the leading security services in Russia and Iran for what it said was a pattern of wrongfully detaining Americans in an effort to use them for political leverage.

The announcement came as Russia’s Foreign Ministry rejected a request from U.S. officials in Moscow to visit Mr. Gershkovich next month in what it said was retaliation for the recent denial of U.S. visas to Russian journalists wanting to travel to New York.

Also attending the dinner was Debra Tice, mother of freelance American journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared while reporting in Syria more than a decade ago. U.S. officials say they operate under the assumption that he’s alive and are trying to bring him home.

Mr. Biden recognized Mr. Tice as well as Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine and corporate security executive from Michigan who has been held in Russia since 2018 and was subsequently convicted there of espionage.

“Journalism is not a crime,” Mr. Biden said. “Evan and Austin should be released immediately, along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.”

Brittney Griner, the WNBA star detained in Russia for nearly 10 months last year before being released as part of a prisoner swap, also met with Mr. Biden as he arrived for the dinner.

Tamara Keith, the correspondents’ association president, recognized Mr. Gershkovich and oversaw a standing ovation for his family during her remarks about his plight. “Evan is in prison tonight in Russia on fake espionage charges simply for doing his job, reporting,” she said.

Mr. Gershkovich, who spoke Russian at home with his family, moved to Russia as a journalist in 2017 and joined the Journal in January 2022. The Journal handed out pins with his name ahead of the dinner.

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