(Paris) More than 300 journalists who worked as correspondents in Russia have signed a petition asking the Russian authorities to “immediately release” the American journalist Evan Gershkovich, detained on charges of espionage which he rejects.

“We are shocked and dismayed by the arrest of our colleague Evan Gershkovich”, with “a long and impressive journalistic career”, say the 301 signatories.

“We have no doubt that the sole purpose and intention of his work was to inform his readers of the current reality in Russia,” they continue.

But the quest for information, “even if it must thwart political interests, does not make Evan a criminal or a spy, but a journalist. Journalism is not a crime.”

The Russian security services (FSB) arrested Evan Gershkovich, 31, a correspondent for the prestigious American daily Wall Street Journal, in late March for “espionage” while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals.

The Kremlin claims he was arrested in “flagrante delicto”, without providing evidence, the file being classified secret. He is notably accused of having collected information on the defense industry.

Evan Gershkovich, his family, his employer and the American authorities categorically reject the espionage charges, punishable by 20 years in prison, accusing Moscow of attacking him for his work as a journalist.

“This arrest sends a disturbing and dangerous signal about Russia’s contempt for independent media and demonstrates indifference to the plight of a talented and honest young journalist,” the signatories lament, calling on the Russian authorities “to drop these charges and immediately release Evan Gershkovich.”

The head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, last week demanded the “immediate release” of the reporter, known for his rigor and his love of Russia.

“I’m not giving up hope,” Mr. Gershkovich wrote in a letter to his parents from prison and published last week by The Wall Street Journal.