Russia extends detention of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months

Moscow court extends journalist’s arrest on espionage charges, ensuring he spends more than a year in prison.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is in custody on espionage charges, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants as he attends a court hearing to consider extending his detention in Moscow, Russia, March 26, 2024. Moscow City Court's Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich stands behind a glass wall as he attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia on March 26, 2024 [Moscow City Court's Press Office/Handout via Reuters]

Russia has extended the pre-trial detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich by three months.

The Moscow City Court ordered on Tuesday that the 32-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter remain behind bars until June 30 as he awaits trial on espionage charges. The United States embassy slammed the decision, which ensures that the journalist will spend a year at least in prison, as evidence that Russia is “using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends”.

Gershkovich and the WSJ have consistently denied the allegations of spying since his arrest in March 2023 while on assignment in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg. The US government has declared him wrongfully jailed.

Russian authorities have not detailed what, if any, evidence they have to support the charges.

US ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy attended the court hearing, and reiterated that “the accusations against Evan are categorically untrue”.

“They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction,” Tracy told reporters outside the court.

The diplomat claimed that there is “no justification for Evan’s continued detention and no explanation as to why Evan doing his job as a journalist constituted a crime”.

“Evan’s case is not about evidence, due process or rule of law,” she continued. “It is about using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends, as the Kremlin is also doing in the case of Paul Whelan.”

Washington has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to bring home Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted in 2020 on spying charges that he too denies, and is serving 16 years in a penal colony.

Analysts suggest that Moscow may be using jailed US citizens as bargaining chips in soaring US-Russian tensions over the Kremlin’s military operation in Ukraine.

The arrest has also been criticised for its effect on other journalists working in Russia.

At least two US citizens arrested in Russia in recent years – including WNBA star Brittney Griner – have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the US.

Gershkovich is the first US reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.

Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Gershkovich could be released at some point in exchange for a Russian prisoner held abroad, but no such deal has so far materialised.

Source: News Agencies