House Resolutions Demand Russia Release Imprisoned Marine Paul Whelan and Journalist Evan Gershkovich

AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

The House of Representatives heard resolutions demanding the immediate release of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and businessman and Marine Veteran Paul Whelan, who are currently imprisoned in Russia. The progress of these resolutions, HR 377 and HR 272 respectively, demonstrates bipartisan unity in response to the increasing trend of countries like Russia, Iran, China, Syria, and Venezuela using high-profile American detainees as leverage for political purposes. Members of Congress condemned the practice, as the resolution calling for Gershkovich’s release also condemns the use of detentions and prosecutions of Americans for political reasons.

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Rep. Michael McCaul, Foreign Affairs Committee Chair (R-TX) said Whelan was innocent and that he was being held in a gulag. Whelan was arrested in Russia in December 2018 and received a 16-year prison sentence in June 2020. He has been in a Russian labor camp since August 2020. Whelan was denied the right to a fair trial, and defense witnesses were excluded. The House passed a similar resolution in the previous Congress calling for his freedom.

Last month in an interview, Whelan expressed that he remained hopeful, saying:

I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning. I just wish they would turn a little bit more quickly.

The resolutions were considered under suspension of quorum rules, meaning they required a two-thirds majority to pass in the House. Due to this, further proceedings on the resolutions were postponed.

 

Russia US Detained Reporter
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old journalist, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on espionage charges on March 29. Gershkovich’s detention marks the first reporter to be detained and charged on Russian soil since the Cold War. The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. government, and Gershkovich vehemently deny the allegations. Last month, a Moscow court extended his pretrial detention until at least August 30. The congressional resolution demands Gershkovich’s immediate release and calls for unrestricted access to U.S. consular officials during his imprisonment.

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House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) said:

This is starting to happen more and more around the world, the fact that Evan was working in Russia, legally, was the key. And then they decide to make an example of him because they are upset at the U.S.—that cannot be tolerated.

Last year, Biden signed an executive order declaring a national emergency in response to the threat posed by hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of United States nationals abroad.

Speaking on other American nationals detained as political pawns, Rep. McCaul said:

You can’t tell me what happened to Britney Griner, whose offense was so meager… and in exchange for a major Russian arms dealer, but that’s what they do, that’s what they want.

The Russian government has not publicly presented evidence to support the charges against Gershkovich, while the U.S. government deems his detention to be wrongful. The State Department issued a statement in April, calling for the release of Gershkovich and Whelan:

Today, Secretary Blinken made a determination that Evan Gershkovich is wrongfully detained by Russia.

Journalism is not a crime.  We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia, and its ongoing war against the truth.

The U.S. government will provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family.  We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich.

We also call on Russia to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan.

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Various Western governments, international news organizations, press freedom advocates, and human rights groups have joined the Journal and the Biden administration in demanding his immediate release. Russia maintains that its actions are in accordance with its own laws.

There is a 580 percent increase in Americans being taken and held, mostly by foreign governments, over the average of five Americans annually during the 2001-2011 decade.

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