Russian court extends detention of WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich

The Wall Street Journal has denounced the continued detention of its reporter as a ‘brazen and outrageous attack’ on free press.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich attends a court hearing on the extension of pre-trial detention on espionage charges in Moscow, Russia November 28, 2023, in this still image taken from video. Moscow General Jurisdiction Courts Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
US reporter Evan Gershkovich attends a court hearing on the extension of pre-trial detention on espionage charges in Moscow, Russia, on November 28 [Moscow General Jurisdiction Courts Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Russia will keep American reporter Evan Gershkovich in custody for another two months as he awaits trial for espionage, a Moscow court has ruled, heightening concerns about the fate of the jailed journalist.

In a closed-door hearing on Tuesday, the Moscow court extended Gershkovich’s detention until January 30, an expected outcome in a country that rarely releases prisoners with serious charges ahead of trial.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Gershkovich’s employer, slammed his continued detention as a “brazen and outrageous attack” on the free press, calling for his immediate release.

“Evan has now been unjustly imprisoned for nearly 250 days, and every day is a day too long,” the newspaper said in a statement.

What are the charges?

Gershkovich, a 32-year-old Moscow correspondent for the WSJ, has been behind bars since March, when he was accused of spying in the city of Yekaterinburg, some 2,000km east of Moscow.

Russia’s Federal Security Service claims the reporter was trying to obtain secret information about a Russian arms factory, saying he was “caught red-handed”.

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

The United States has declared Gershkovich to be “wrongfully detained” and accused Russia of using him for “hostage diplomacy”.

Gershkovich is the first Western reporter to be jailed on spying charges in Russia since the Soviet era and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Media crackdown

Gershkovich’s detention has unfolded amid heightened tensions between the United States and Russia over the war in Ukraine and his advocates say the arrest is part of Moscow’s broader crackdown on media during the war.

Gershkovich is one of few foreign journalists who continued reporting from Russia after the Kremlin launched its Ukraine offensive in February 2022.

Gershkovich’s arrest also comes after Russia exchanged several US citizens for Russian prisoners held in the US.

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

Russia’s foreign ministry has said it will consider a swap for Gershkovich only after a verdict in his trial, which could last for more than a year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies