Russia has formally charged detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich with espionage, according to Russian news agencies.
State-run TASS news agency reported on Friday that the United States journalist denied the charge.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said on March 30 that it had detained Gershkovich in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg and opened an espionage case against the 31-year-old for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military-industrial complex.
“FSB investigators charged Gershkovich with espionage in the interests of his country,” TASS said, citing a law enforcement source.
“He categorically denied all accusations and stated that he was engaged in journalistic activities in Russia,” it added.
Another Russian news agency, Interfax, also reported the development, citing an unidentified source.
The WSJ has denied that Gershkovich was spying and demanded the immediate release of its “trusted and dedicated reporter”.
The US has urged Russia to release Gershkovich and cast the Russian claims of espionage as ridiculous.
The White House said on Thursday that Russia’s refusal to give consular access to Gershkovich was “inexcusable”.
“We need to get consular access to Evan,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on the same day that it was “pointless” to try to pressure Moscow over its case against Gershkovich.
“Hype around this case, which is being fanned in the United States, with the aim of pressuring Russian authorities and the court … is pointless and meaningless,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told US ambassador Lynne Tracy, according to a statement.
“He was caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, using his journalistic status as a cover for illegal actions, qualifying as espionage,” the statement added.
Yekaterinburg, where Gershkovich was detained, is some 1,800km (1,100 miles) east of Moscow. He was then transferred to the capital and placed in detention until May 29 pending trial.
The journalist’s arrest has drawn outrage from the West and is seen as a serious escalation of Moscow’s crackdown on media.