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Russia detains Wall Street Journal reporter for 'spying'

March 30, 2023

Russian security services have accused US reporter Evan Gershkovich of spying on its military. A brief arraignment hearing was held with the case classed as "top secret," his lawyer said.

Journalist Evan Gershkovich
Evan Gershkovich had been covering Russian discontent with the war in Ukraine for The Wall Street JournalImage: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP

Russia's FSB security agency said on Thursday that it had arrested Wall Street Journal Moscow correspondent Evan Gershkovich.

In a statement quoted by Russian news agency Interfax, the FSB said that it had "stopped the illegal activities of US citizen Gershkovich Evan... who is suspected of spying in the interests of the American government."

The security service accused him of gathering information on "the activities of one of the enterprises of the military-defense complex" in Russia "for the American side."

He was formally arrested pending trial after a brief arraignment hearing on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported, pleading not guilty to espionage charges.

His lawyer Daniil Berman, a human rights advocate, told reporters that he was not allowed into the courtroom with his client. According to Reuters news agency, he said he was not shown the charges because the case had been marked as "top secret."

The Moscow Lefortovo district court said that the journalist was being detained for "a period of one month and 29 days, that is until May 29, 2023."

US reporter charged with espionage in Russia

WSJ concerned for Gershkovich's safety, US seeking consular access

"The Wall Street Journal is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich," the newspaper said in a statement reacting to his detention.

The paper added that it "vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family." 

US officials later said they were in touch with Gershkovich's family and the State Department had contacted Russia seeking consular access. 

"The targeting of American citizens by the Russian governnment is unacceptable," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. "We condemn the detention of Mr. Gershkovich in the strongest possible terms." 

Gershkovich also wrote for the English-language Moscow Times. His colleague Francesca Abel noted on Twitter that he had been fully accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She called him "an excellent thoughtful journalist who cares deeply about his work...these allegations are absurd."

Covering Russian discontent

Gershkovich, who has also worked for several other international media outlets in the past, has long covered Russia and Ukraine. His most recent series of articles for the WSJ cover the economic distress of ordinary Russians as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, as well as highlighting the voices of disillusioned Russian soldiers and the clampdown against the anti-war movement across the country.

Gershkovich was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Ural mountains. FSB has offered no evidence for its claims.

Russia accuses US reporter of spying

If convicted of espionage, Gershkovich faces up to 20 years imprisonment.

Russia has tightened censorship laws since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, in what Moscow refers to as a "special military operation."

Andrei Soldatov, who writes about Russia's security agencies from outside the country, said on social media: "Evan Gershkovich is a very good and brave journalist, not a spy, for Christ's sake. [His detention] is a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash."

Moscow accused of politically motivated arrests

This is not the first time Russian or foreign journalists have found themselves detained following critical coverage of the war. Last year, Russia sentenced a former defense reporter, Ivan Safronov, to 22 years in prison on treason charges.

Moscow has also been accused of arresting US basketball star Brittney Griner for political purposes. Griner was charged with drug possession and jailed but was later sent back to the US after Russia secured a prisoner swap with notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.

Prominent Russians' private criticism leaked

es/sms (AFP, Reuters)