A Moscow court has upheld the detention of Evan Gershkovich, an American journalist arrested on spying charges as part of a sweeping Kremlin crackdown on dissent.
The Wall Street Journal reporter, who reported on the Ukraine war from Russia, is the first correspondent from the United States since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying allegations. Gershkovich and the US government vehemently deny the allegations.
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Dozens of journalists on Tuesday crowded into the courtroom to catch a glimpse of Gershkovich, who smiled and looked calm as he stood inside a glass enclosure to appeal his detention.
“He has a fighting spirit,” Maria Korchagina, one of his lawyers, said after the hearing. “He’s working out, and he knows that people are supporting him.”
Russia’s FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, accusing him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.
“Evan is a member of the free press who right up until he was arrested was engaged in newsgathering,” The Wall Street Journal said in a statement. “Any suggestions otherwise are false.”
If convicted, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison.
Russian lawyers have said past investigations into espionage cases took a year to 18 months, during which time the suspect might have little contact with the outside world.
Gershkovich has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which dates back to the czarist era and has been a symbol of repression since Soviet times.
Last week, the US officially declared that Gershkovich was “wrongfully detained”. US President Joe Biden has called his imprisonment “totally illegal”.
More than three dozen news organisations have signed a letter to the Russian ambassador in the US, denouncing the “unfounded espionage charges”.
On Monday, the US ambassador to Russia visited Gershkovich and said he was “in good health and remains strong”.
He was arrested at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups.
Last month, a Russian court convicted a single father over social media posts critical of the war and sentenced him to two years in prison. His 13-year-old daughter was sent to a “rehabilitation centre” for minors.
On Monday, a Russian court convicted opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza of treason for publicly denouncing the war and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Another US national, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges, which his family and the US government have called baseless.