‘Wrongfully Detained’ Americans ‘Rotting in Foreign Prisons’ Recognized

Actions to free “Wrongfully Detained” Americans “Rotting in Foreign Prisons” were honored and discussed Tuesday and Wednesday, May 2 and 3, by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Washington Post World Press Freedom Live event at the Washington Post headquarters downtown and at a candlelight vigil in Georgetown.

There was another gathering in the alleyway off M Street between 31st Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW in front of the now crumbling black-and-white art exhibit of 18 somewhat fuzzy larger-than-life head shots, pasted on a brick wall by grieving families in July 2022.

“We are working 24/7 to get all 65 released,” said State Department Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens.

On July 19, President Biden signed an executive order to increase the government’s ability to combat wrongful detention. “The problem has been getting worse, and until now, we have been failing to adequately combat it,” Biden said at the time. “The wrongful detention of U.S. nationals abroad constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” Biden’s order allowed U.S. agencies to target assets and individuals and to list explicit travel warnings to named countries, complicit in what some call “diplomatic hostage taking.”

Smaller posters now cover some of the original posters. “Welcome Home!” they proclaim with the wrongfully detained person’s name printed out — “freed after [blank] number of days.” On Tuesday, candle-holding family members watched as two more such freed messages were affixed to the tattered photos, even as the days, months and years of detention, isolation, torture and grief increased for most of the others. New names have been added to the list of officially proclaimed “wrongfully detained.” 

Much public attention has been focused in the past few weeks on the wrongful detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 31, who was detained March 26 and convicted of espionage charges in Russia. Biden began his widely viewed presentation at the White House Correspondent’s dinner on April 22 to confirm his commitment to bring home wrongfully detained journalists and other Americans home. “We all stand with you,” he told the Gershkovich family seated in front of him at the dinner.

Likewise, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told investigative journalist David Ignatius at the Washington Post World Press Freedom Live event, in honor of World Press Day, “We are intensely engaged in seeking the release of Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich.” 

“Evan [Gershkovich] is an outstanding journalist, native speaker, expert on Russia — but it could happen to any of us,” said Journal Washington Bureau Chief Paul Beckett at the Washington Post event. “To be honest, I think, there but for the grace of God, goes everybody else. I don’t think this was particular to Evan. He was an accredited journalist. He registered with the foreign ministry. They knew he was a journalist. They knew he is a journalist. I think they saw a target of opportunity, and they took it. And the hostage taking as a business for Russia and other countries, as I’m sure we’ll hear a huge amount about today, is a growth industry. So I think that was it, to give Russia leverage in whatever games it’s trying to play.”

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” concluded Clayton Weimers, executive director of the U.S. Bureau of Reporters Without Borders.  “We have more official support and tools to highlight and designate wrongfully detained Americans and to bring them home.”

The proof that freedom of speech is important and supported came at the event itself when two Code Pink protestors hopped onto the stage and stood behind Ignatius and Blinken with signs and demanded that Julian Assange also be considered as wrongfully detained. They were quickly escorted off the stage, as Ignatius commented, “Freedom of speech is here.”

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius interviews Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the newspaper’s live event for World Press Freedom Day. Photo by the Washington Post.

A candlelight vigil for “wrongfully detained” was held in Georgetown on May 2. Photo by Bill Starrels.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *