(NEW YORK) — The Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich felt “slight unease” about reporting in Russia, but believed it was his professional duty to remain in the country to “tell the world what was going on,” his close friend, Pjotr Sauer, said in an interview with ABC News’ Kanya Whitworth.
“Evan was accredited with the foreign ministry. He had all the right papers. He was allowed to be there. And he always told me, you know, as long as I’m accredited, as long as I am able to do my work, I will be reporting on Russia,” said Sauer, a Russian affairs correspondent for The Guardian.
Gershkovich was arrested nearly two weeks ago in Russia on espionage charges that the U.S. adamantly denies. On Monday, the State Department officially designated the Moscow-based journalist as wrongfully detained, and a top U.S. hostage negotiator is now on the case. President Joe Biden spoke to Gershkovich’s family on Tuesday while heading overseas on Air Force One.
Gershkovich’s parents said in a statement they were “encouraged” by both the State Department announcement and Biden’s call.
“There is a hole in our hearts and in our family that will not be filled until we’re reunited,” the statement said.
Sauer and Gershkovich met when they both worked at the Moscow Times. Sauer said they would often talk about the political danger of reporting in Russia after the start of the war, adding that Gershkovich told him “he felt sometimes he was being followed.” Sauer, who left Russia, said he was “devastated” after learning of his friend’s arrest.
“No one could imagine Russia would go this far and accuse him of these bogus charges of espionage,” Sauer said.
“This is just a huge shock for us. This is unprecedented. No one could really see this coming. Russia hasn’t arrested a journalist on espionage charges since 1986,” Sauer said.
Gershkovich’s arrest prompted widespread outcry from Russian and international journalists around the world. The Wall Street Journal said in a statement it “vehemently denies” the allegations against their reporter. More than three dozen of the world’s top media organizations called for his release in a letter to Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States.
Sauer stressed the importance of keeping Gershkovich’s name in the news as his case is pending, which could take months. Sauer is also helping to lead an effort to send letters of support to Gershkovich as he remains detained.
“We need to make sure he feels he’s not alone, he’s not forgotten. And I’m sure eventually, you know, everything will be fine and we’ll get him out,” Sauer said.
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