On Thursday, Russia charged Evan Gershkovich, an American journalist for the Wall Street Journal, with espionage. The case is likely to further worsen the diplomatic feud between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine. Gershkovich, who has worked as a journalist in Russia for six years, is the highest-profile American arrested there since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed in December after 10 months in jail on drugs charges. He is also the first American journalist to be detained in Russia since the end of the Cold War.
The FSB, Russia’s Federal Security Service, arrested Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, an industrial city in central Russia, for allegedly collecting information on “one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex.”Gershkovich was brought to Moscow, where a court at a closed hearing ordered him to be held in pre-trial detention until May 29. Espionage under Russian law can be punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
FSB alleges that Gershkovich was “acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret about the activity of one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex.”
The Wall Street Journal denied the allegations against Gershkovich and demanded his immediate release. The White House has stated that the State Department was in direct contact with the Russian government over Gershkovich’s detention and urged U.S. citizens living or traveling in Russia to depart immediately.
“The Wall Street Journal 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,” said the newspaper.
Gershkovich, who has been working for the Journal for just over a year, told the court that he was not guilty. His employer said the case against him, believed to be the first criminal case for espionage against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia, was based on a false allegation.
The Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russia would grant the U.S. consular access to Gershkovich and that the case against him would be made public. However, Daniil Berman, a lawyer representing the reporter, was not permitted inside the courtroom or allowed to see the charges. Berman told reporters outside that he believed Gershkovich would be taken to Lefortovo, a 19th-century central Moscow jail notorious in Soviet times for holding political prisoners.