The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee announced Friday a bipartisan resolution calling for the immediate release by Russia of two American detainees, Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.
The resolution, co-sponsored by 27 senators, focuses on the continuing detention of Gershkovich, 32, a Wall Street Journal reporter, who was arrested on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry up to 20 years in prison.
A Moscow court declined Gershkovich's latest appeal Tuesday of his pre-trial detention.
FILE - Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government have called baseless. He was convicted in 2020 and sentenced to serve 16 years.
'We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador [Lynne] Tracy reiterated to him that President [Joe] Biden and Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken are committed to bring him home,' said State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters at a mid-September briefing.
"Evan Gershkovich, a journalist with The Wall Street Journal, has been wrongfully detained in Russia for merely for doing his job: reporting facts and shedding light on President [Vladimir] Putin's bogus rationale for his illegal war against Ukraine," said Senator Ben Cardin, the committee's Democratic chairman.
"Freedom of the press is critical to holding governments accountable around the world,' said Senator Jim Risch, the panel's top Republican.
During a news briefing Friday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called Russia's accusations baseless and called for Russia "to immediately release Evan and also to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. Our efforts to secure their release are ongoing, and we will not stop until they are home."
"It is clear that Evan is being held for leverage because he is an American," she said, adding that Biden "has been clear that we have no higher priority than securing the release of Evan, Paul Whelan and all Americans wrongfully detained abroad."
Russia has said the reporter was caught 'red-handed' in Yekaterinburg, where the FSB security service said he was trying to obtain military secrets. It has not provided any details to support that assertion.
The U.S. has accused Russia of using Gershkovich to conduct hostage diplomacy, at a time when relations between the two countries have broken down at their worst point in more than 60 years because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.