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Biden Calls For Release Of Imprisoned Journalists, Including RFE/RL's Kurmasheva

Alsu Kurmasheva in a Russian courtroom on April 1
Alsu Kurmasheva in a Russian courtroom on April 1

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Joe Biden has called for the release of all imprisoned journalists, including RFE/RL's Alsu Kurmasheva and Evan Gershkovich of The Wall Street Journal, who have been detained in Russia on charges they, their employers, and their supporters reject as politically motivated.

"Journalism should not be a crime anywhere on Earth," Biden said in a statement marking World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

"In Russia, American journalists Evan Gershkovich and Alsu Kurmasheva have been imprisoned in connection with their work for The Wall Street Journal and for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty," Biden said.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, has been held in Russian custody since October 18 on a charge of violating the so-called "foreign agent" law, which critics and rights groups say is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

Kurmasheva, who is 47, has also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charges are a reprisal for her work as journalist for RFE/RL.

Gershkovich has been held in detention since March last year on spying charges both he and the newspaper vehemently deny, saying the 32-year-old was merely doing his job as an accredited reporter when he was arrested.

Moscow has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

"On World Press Freedom Day, the United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists who have been put behind bars for simply doing their jobs," Biden said, also mentioning Austin Tice, an American freelance journalist kidnapped and held in Syria since 2012.

Biden said the U.S. administration will soon announce concrete steps in response to the wrongful detention of journalists worldwide, calling the repression of press freedom a "grave threat" to America's national security.

"I will authorize measures, including sanctions and visa bans, against those who take abusive actions to silence the press," he said. "Today and every day, we recognize their courage, support their right to do their jobs, and stand with them for press freedom."

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.

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