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McCarthy and Jeffries issue a joint statement calling for the release of American citizens in Russia

HSpeaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) issued a rare joint statement Thursday, calling for the release of two US citizens who have been detained by Russian officials and arrested

The joint statement called for the release of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who was arrested in 2018, as well as Evan Gershkovich, a journalist who was arrested in March. The two congressional leaders denounced the arrests as illegal and called on the Kremlin to immediately release the pair.

BLINKEN DETAILS THE EFFORTS TO FREE PAUL WHELAN AND EVAN GERSHKÓVICH

“Since arresting Evan five weeks ago, Russia has not provided any credible evidence to support its fabricated charges,” the pair wrote. “Journalism is not a crime and his arrest is another deeply worrying attack on press freedom around the world.”

Gershkovich was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service in March on espionage charges, the first time a US-based journalist has been arrested by the Kremlin for alleged espionage since the Cold War. Gershkovich was assigned to the Wall Street Journal at the time of his arrest and was covering the war in Russia and Ukraine.

The White House and several lawmakers have condemned his arrest, and the Wall Street Journal has denied any wrongdoing.

“The prosecution of Gershkovich is part of a disturbing practice by Putin’s Russia of kidnapping American citizens and using Soviet-style show trials to unjustly imprison them,” McCarthy and Jeffries wrote. “Today, the Kremlin not only holds Gershkovich hostage, but continues to unjustly imprison Paul Whelan. Russia must release Gershkovich and Whelan now.”

Whelan was arrested in December 2018 after arriving in Moscow to attend the wedding of a former marine. However, Whelan was arrested by the Federal Security Service on charges of espionage. He was subsequently sentenced to 16 years in prison on June 15, 2020.

US officials have repeatedly called for his release, and President Joe Biden tried to include him in a prisoner swap last year that included the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner in exchange for drug trafficker ‘arms convicted Viktor Bout. However, the Russian government threatened to drop the exchange entirely unless it included only Griner, leaving Whelan in Kremlin custody.

The US currently has a “standing proposal” to release Whelan, although those details have yet to be finalised.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER

“We are actively and energetically trying to achieve this [Gershkovich] cast as well as Paul Whelan. This has never stopped,” National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby told CNN Thursday morning. “There’s a proposal on the table for Paul. We’re going to urge the Russians to accept that proposal so we can get him out from there.”

Initial talks are underway for Gershkovich’s release, although Russian officials have said those discussions will take place only after a trial concludes, Kirby said.

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