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Russia opens case against US reporter Gershkovich

June 26, 2024

A Russian prosecutor has claimed evidence against US journalist Evan Gershkovich is well established. The US, which accuses the Kremlin of "hostage diplomacy," has said there is no proof and has demanded his release.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich, charged with espionage appears for a hearing at the Sverdlovsk Regional Court
The next hearing for Gershkovich has been set for August 13, court officials said Image: Donat Sorokin/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

US journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, as prosecutors claimed there was evidence he had spied for US intelligence

Washington, which claims Moscow is using the Wall Street Journal reporter as a pawn for its political ends, responded by saying prosecutors have failed to deliver evidence of a crime.

Russia begins espionage trial for US journalist Gershkovich

What happened at the hearing?

Journalists were permitted to enter the courtroom for a few minutes before doors were closed on the proceedings.

The 32-year-old, who could face up to 20 years in a penal colony if convicted, was filmed standing in the courtroom with a shaved head in a glass box.

"The judge has entered the hall. The process has started," court press secretary Irina Toshcheva later told reporters. 

The Russian prosecutor told reporters outside the hearing there was proof that Gershkovich had gathered "secret information" for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) about a plant that makes and repairs tanks and other military equipment.

"The investigation has established and documented that the American journalist of the Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA, ... collected secret information about the activities of a defense enterprise about the production and repair of military equipment in the Sverdlovsk region," Prosecutor Mikael Ozdoyev told reporters.

The court said the next hearing would be on August 13.

Fighting to free journalist Evan Gershkovich from Russia

How has the US responded?

Gershkovich, his newspaper, and the US government all reject the allegations. 

As the trial began, the US Embassy in Moscow called on the Kremlin to release Gershkovich. It said embassy officials had been given brief access to the reporter before the trial began.

"We have been clear from the start that Evan has done nothing wrong and never should have been arrested in the first place," the embassy said. "His case is not about evidence, procedural norms or the rule of law. It is about the Kremlin using American citizens to achieve its political objectives."

"Russian authorities have failed to provide any evidence supporting the charges against him, failed to justify his continued detention, and failed to explain why Evan's work as a journalist constitutes a crime."

Washington has previously described the detention of Gershkovich and another US citizen, Paul Whelan, on espionage charges as "hostage diplomacy." 

Gershkovich is the US-born son of immigrants from the USSR, and the first Western journalist to be arrested on espionage charges in post-Soviet Russia.

He and other US citizens jailed in Russia have become embroiled in tensions between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country is open to the possibility of a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and contacts between the two countries have taken place.

Gershkovich has been held in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo prison since his arrest in March 2023. He has appeared healthy during previous hearings that saw his appeals for release rejected.

rc/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)