Political activist calls Russia's detainment of US journalist 'clear hostage-taking, warns of 'hellish' prisons

A political activist is calling Russia's move to detain an American correspondent for the Wall Street Journal "clear hostage-taking".

On Thursday (local time) Evan Greshkovich, 31, was charged with spying in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg. The US correspondent is suspected of spying in the interests of the American Government" by collecting information on "one of the enterprises of Russia's military-industrial complex", which the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation did not identify.

The Wall Street Journal denied the allegations and demanded Gershkovich's immediate release.

As a result, the United States is urging all US citizens to leave Russia immediately.

Financier and political activist Bill Browder told AM Gershkovich's detainment is "hostage-taking in the most brazen possible way".

"This journalist, who is absolutely not a spy, is a journalist," Browder said. 

He believes the 31-year-old's arrest is for several reasons, including Russia's plan to gain control of the narrative.

"They need to replenish their supply of hostages. If you remember there was a female basketball player who they took hostage, that they used to swap out a very coveted Russian arms dealer."

He told AM there's "no way" Gershkovich's arrest would've happened without the "absolute approval" of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"This is not something that would've been freelanced by any junior-level person."

Browder also believes Russia wants to eradicate all foreign journalists from Russia. 

"There's no better way to get rid of all foreign journalists than to arrest one, put him on trial for espionage, which has a 20-year jail sentence. And if you're another western journalist you probably don't won't be around," he said.

"There's no better way for them to control information coming out of Russia if they don't have a bunch of western witnesses reporting on it."

Browder told AM "everyone" will pull their journalists out of Russia as a result. 

"You can't be a news organisation and put anybody who works for you at risk. So I think there's going to be a total withdrawal of western journalists at this point."

He said Russia's prisons are "hellish" and anyone who steps foot inside of them will lose an "enormous amount of weight".

"If you have any underlying health problems you will be exacerbated. You will not get medical attention, they often almost regularly deny prisoners the opportunity to speak to their family members. 

"It's torture in every possible way, both physical and psychological."

Watch Browder's full interview above.