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Brittney Griner calls for the release of an American reporter detained in Russia

WNBA superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 27, 2022. Griner was released in December 2022 after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison.
Kirill Kudryavtsev
WNBA superstar Brittney Griner arrives to a hearing at the Khimki Court, outside Moscow on July 27, 2022. Griner was released in December 2022 after spending nearly 10 months in a Russian prison.

Brittney Griner, the basketball star who was detained in Russia for nearly 10 months last year, said America must do "everything in our power" to bring home a Wall Street Journal reporter who Moscow is accusing of espionage.

Evan Gershkovich was reporting in Yekaterinburg when he was detained Wednesday on charges the Biden administration called "ridiculous." Gershkovich, the American son of Soviet immigrants, joined the Wall Street Journal's staff last year but has lived in Moscow since 2017 working for various news outlets.

In an Instagram post Saturday night, Griner and her wife Cherelle wrote that their "hearts are filled with great concern for Evan Gershkovich and his family."

The Griners called on their supporters to "celebrate the wins," referencing recent high-profile releases negotiated by the Biden administration, "and encourage the administration to use every tool possible to bring Evan and all wrongfully detained Americans home."

Biden urged Russia to release Gershkovich on Friday. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the "targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable" and condemned his detention "in the strongest terms."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to release Gershkovich immediately and expressed "grave concern" over his detention in a rare phone call between the two diplomats, the State Department said on Sunday. He also sought the immediate release of Paul Whelan, an American who's been detained in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that the U.S. says are baseless.

A picture taken on July 24, 2021 shows journalist Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. reporter for the <em>Wall Street Journal</em> who was detained in Russia Wednesday. Moscow has accused him of spying.
Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP via Getty Images
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Dimitar Dilkoff
A picture taken on July 24, 2021 shows journalist Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was detained in Russia Wednesday. Moscow has accused him of spying.

On that call, Lavrov asked Blinken to "respect the decisions of the Russian authorities" who say Gershkovich "was caught red-handed," according to a summary of the call from Russia's foreign ministry.

The Wall Street Journal denies Gershkovich was involved in espionage, and top editors at news organizations around the world signed a letter condemning his arrest and calling for his immediate release.

Griner was released from a Russian prison in December 2022 in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was detained in the U.S. Last August, she was sentenced to nine years in prison for illegally carrying less than a gram of hash oil into Russia, which was legally prescribed to her in the U.S. for pain management. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was traveling there to play in the Russian women's professional basketball league.

Since her release, Griner has advocated for the return of all Americans detained abroad. There are at least 54 Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad today, according to the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for their release.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 1, 2023 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous headline of this story misspelled Brittney Griner's name.
Kaitlyn Radde
Kaitlyn Radde is an intern for the Graphics and Digital News desks, where she has covered everything from the midterm elections to child labor. Before coming to NPR, she covered education data at Chalkbeat and contributed data analysis to USA TODAY coverage of Black political representation and NCAA finances. She is a graduate of Indiana University.