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Brittney Griner worried about American journalist detained in Russia

WNBA star Brittney Griner 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 for espionage.

“Every American who is caught is ours to fight for and every American who returns is a victory for all of us,” said Griner, who was released in a high-profile prisoner exchange after being imprisoned in Russia during the war. most of last year.

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

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

His arrest came as tensions between Washington and Moscow escalate over the war in Ukraine and the Kremlin cracks down on free speech in his country. Gershkovich is the first American media journalist to be arrested for spying in Russia since the Cold War.

President Joe Biden has urged Moscow to release Gershkovich, telling reporters on Friday 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 press conference in Lusaka, Zambia, Vice President Kamala Harris added that the United States was “deeply concerned” about the arrest.

“We will not tolerate – and in fact condemn – the crackdown on journalists,” Harris said during a week-long 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 detained in Niger for six years, and Paul Rusesbagina, a legal U.S. resident. and human rights defender. 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 home the wrongfully detained Americans.

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

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

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

“I wouldn’t even consider this question now because the people who were exchanged before have already served their time,” Ryabkov said on Thursday, according to the TASS news agency.

As Russia’s war effort in Ukraine continues, the crackdown on journalists and protesters in the country has intensified. A few days after the invasion, Moscow introduced a new law criminalizing any criticism of the Russian military and threatening repeat offenders with prison.

Gershkovich, whose parents are from the former Soviet Union, has covered Russia, Ukraine and former USSR countries for The Wall Street Journal. If convicted of espionage, he faces up to 20 years in prison in Russia.

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

“Evan’s case is a vicious affront to a free press and should spark the outrage of all free people and governments around the world,” he added.

Associated press And Reuters contributed.

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