Brittney Griner concerned for American journalist held in Russia; urges Biden to secure his release

WNBA star Brittney Griner has shared her concern and support for Evan Gershkovich, urging the Biden administration to “use every tool possible” to secure the release of the American journalist, who is being held in Russia on espionage charges.

“Every American who is taken is ours to fight for and every American returned is a win for us all,” said Griner, who was released in a high-profile prisoner swap after being jailed in Russia for most of last year.

“Our hearts are filled with great concern” for Gershkovich and his family,” Griner and her wife Cherelle said in a statement posted to Instagram late Saturday.

Russian security officials arrested the Wall Street Journal reporter, 31, last week. He has been detained for at least two months on spying charges that the Journal vehemently denies. The newspaper and other media organizations have demanded his release.

His arrest came as tensions between Washington and Moscow deepen over the war in Ukraine and as the Kremlin cracks down on free speech at home. Gershkovich is the first journalist from an American outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War.

President Joe Biden has urged Moscow to release Gershkovich, telling reporters Friday that his message on the arrest was simply: “Let him go.”

The Biden administration said Thursday it was working to secure U.S. consular access to Gershkovich. Speaking at a news conference in Lusaka, Zambia, Vice President Kamala Harris added that the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the arrest.

“We will not tolerate — and condemn, in fact — repression of journalists,” Harris said during a weeklong visit to Africa.

In their Instagram statement, the Griners celebrated the Biden administration’s “recent successful efforts” to repatriate other detained Americans such as Jeff Woodke, an aid worker who was held captive in Niger for six years, and Paul Rusesbagina, an American legal resident and human rights worker who was imprisoned for more than two years in Rwanda.

The Griners called on their supporters to “encourage” the administration to do everything possible to bring wrongfully detained Americans home.

Griner, a six-time WNBA All-Star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury, spent most of last year in a Russian penal colony after being arrested at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in February and jailed on drug charges after Russian authorities said they found vape cannisters and cannabis oil in her luggage.

She was released in December in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, an illicit arms dealer nicknamed “the Merchant of Death,” who had served 11 years of a 25 year sentence in the U.S.

But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov ruled out any quick swap involving Gershkovich.

“I wouldn’t even consider this issue now because people who were previously swapped had already served their sentences,” Ryabkov said on Thursday, according to TASS news agency.

As Russia’s war effort in Ukraine continues, crackdowns on reporters and protestors at home have intensified. Days after the invasion, Moscow introduced a new law criminalizing any criticism of the Russian army and threatening prison for repeat offenders.

Gershkovich, whose parents are originally from the former Soviet Union, covered Russia, Ukraine and countries in the former USSR for the Wall Street Journal. If convicted of spying, he could face up to 20 years in a Russian prison.

In a statement on Saturday, the Journal said it “demands the immediate release of our colleague,” describing him as a “distinguished” and “fearless” reporter.

“Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press, and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world,” it added.

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