Joe Biden has said he is working “every day” to secure the release of an Jewish American journalist detained in Russia.
Addressing Evan Gershkovich’s family at an annual White House dinner for correspondents, the US president said: “We all stand with you. Evan went to Russia to shed light on the darkness that you all escaped from, years ago.
“Absolute courage … to the entire family, everyone in this hall stands with you. We’re working every day to secure his release.”
Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in late March on charges of spying for America.
The New Jersey native’s grandparents fled the Soviet Union to settle in the US.
His grandmother, who was born in present-day Ukraine, survived the Holocaust before leaving for America when she heard rumours that Jews were to be deported to Siberia.
Gershkovich was detained by Russian Federal Security Service agents while on a reporting assignment in the city of Yekaterinburg.
The arrest is the first time Russia has brought a spying case against a foreign reporter since the end of the Cold War.
Russian spy agency the FSB alleged that Gershkovich “acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret about the activity of one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex.”
The WSJ, his family, and the Biden administration all “vehemently deny” that Gershkovich was involved in espionage and have called for his immediate release.
“Journalism is not a crime,” Biden added.
“Evan and Austin should be released immediately, along with every other American held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad.
“I promise, I am working like hell to bring them home.”
Biden’s comments came two days after an official proclamation from the president’s office hailed the contribution of Jews to America.
The declaration officially confirmed that May would be celebrated as Jewish American Heritage Month, a tradition launched in 2006 by then president George Bush.
“For centuries, Jewish refugees fleeing oppression and discrimination abroad have sailed to our shores in search of sanctuary,” Biden’s proclamation read.
It said Jews have shaped America's character by fighting for religious freedom, which helped to define a "bedrock principle upon which America was built."
“Jewish Americans continue to enrich every part of American life as educators and entrepreneurs, athletes and artists, scientists and entertainers, public officials and activists, labor and community leaders, diplomats and military service members, public health heroes, and more.”
Biden's administration, it claimed, is developing the first national strategy to counter antisemitism, which will include input from over a thousand community stakeholders.