Moscow court extends pre-trial detention of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich

Wall Street Journal newspaper condemns three-month extension, renews call for US journalist’s immediate release.

Evan Gershkovich
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich during a previous court hearing in Moscow, Russia, on June 22, 2023 [Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

A court in Moscow has extended the pre-trial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Russian news agencies reported, drawing condemnation from the US newspaper and renewed calls for Gershkovich’s release.

The court in Russia’s capital on Thursday extended the 31-year-old American journalist’s detention to November 30 from August 30, the TASS state news agency said.

Gershkovich, who was arrested in March on espionage charges that he has denied, was present at the hearing. He arrived in a white prison van and was led out in handcuffs, wearing jeans, sneakers and a shirt.

“We are deeply disappointed he continues to be arbitrarily and wrongfully detained for doing his job as a journalist,” the Wall Street Journal said in a statement after the court’s decision.

“The baseless accusations against him are categorically false, and we continue to push for his immediate release. Journalism is not a crime.”

Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich in late March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, accusing him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.

His detention has unfolded amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the Russian war in Ukraine and advocates have said his arrest is part of Moscow’s broader crackdown on media outlets as it pushes forward with the invasion of its neighbour.

But the Russian authorities said Gershkovich was “caught red-handed and violated the laws of the Russian Federation”.

The country’s Federal Security Service said the US reporter, “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex”.

Gershkovich’s legal team and his supporters have dismissed the charges as baseless.

In April, the US Department of State formally designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” and called on Russia to release him immediately.

But on June 22, a Russian judge rejected an application for Gershkovich to be released from prison while awaiting trial. After that decision, the US ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, accused Moscow of conducting “hostage diplomacy”.

Evan Gershkovich
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing in Moscow in April [File: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters]

Tracy has met Gershkovich three times since his detention began. Following her last visit earlier this month, the ambassador said he appeared to be “in good health”.

“Once again, the United States calls on the Russian Federation to immediately release Evan Gershkovich,” Tracy said through a spokesperson at that time.

She also called for the release of former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is also detained in Russia on espionage charges that he has also denied.

In Gershkovich’s case, Russia has said that any prisoner exchange could only be considered after a court verdict, and via a special channel handled by the security services.

The country has agreed to high-profile swaps in the past, most recently in December 2022 when it traded Brittney Griner, a US basketball star convicted of a drug offence in Russia, for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies