A Moscow court has granted a request from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to arrest Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) who was detained in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and accused of espionage, a charge the U.S.-based newspaper said it "vehemently" denies.
Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen based in Moscow as a correspondent for the WSJ, had been in Yekaterinburg for several weeks reporting about the attitude of Russians toward the Kremlin's war against Ukraine and on the Wagner mercenary group.
During a closed-door session on March 30, the Lefortovo district court in Moscow agreed to an FSB request to hold Gershkovich under arrest for two months.
"The court ruling on Gershkovich: the court has ordered [his] arrest until May 29, 2023," the court's press service said.
Mediazona reported from the courthouse that Gershkovich's lawyer, Daniil Berman, was not allowed to be present at the hearing as another lawyer had been appointed to the case to represent his client.
Berman and journalists were blocked by security forces from the fifth floor of the court's building where the hearing took place.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was "deeply concerned" about the detention of Gershkovich, condemning Moscow's actions toward the media, while White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the detention of the reporters and said the targeting of U.S. citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable.
Jean-Pierre also said U.S. officials had been in touch with The Wall Street Journal and members of Gershkovich's family, adding that the State Department had been in direct touch with the Russian government, including actively working to secure consular access.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Washington will be granted consular access to Gershkovich in due course.
Jean-Pierre reiterated the State Department's advisory that Americans should not travel to Russia and those residing or currently traveling in the country should depart immediately.
Citing law enforcement sources, the TASS news agency reported that the materials of the case against Gershkovich had been classified as "top secret" and that he had entered a not-guilty plea.
Mediazona and the newspaper Izvestia posted videos taken after the court hearing that showed a person who appeared to be Gershkovich -- wearing a hood over his head and with his hands cuffed behind his back -- being escorted out of the court.
The person can then be seen being loaded into a black van in a courtyard at the court building before being driven away.
The FSB alleged that, on instructions from the United States, Gershkovich "was collecting information about one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex, which constitutes a state secret." The charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
"The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich," the WSJ said in an e-mailed statement.
Gershkovich's detention appears to be the first time a U.S. correspondent has been put behind bars since the end of the Cold War and highlights the growing tensions between Moscow and Washington amid the Kremlin's war in Ukraine, launched in February 2022.
The Meduza website quoted one of Gershkovich's colleagues as saying the reporter recently traveled to the city of Nizhny Tagil, 140 kilometers north of Yekaterinburg, where Russia's major tank-producing facility, Uralvagonzavod, and several other factories producing military equipment are located.
Local media outlets in Yekaterinburg and the surrounding Sverdlovsk region reported that several men in civil clothes detained an individual near the Bukowski Grill restaurant in Yekaterinburg late on March 29, pulling his sweater over his head and taking him away in a car. The reports suggested it was Gershkovich, a veteran reporter who has worked in Russia for almost six years.
An unofficial Telegram channel of the Sverdlovsk region's governor later confirmed Gershkovich was the person detained in Yekaterinburg, adding that "the situation is very serious."
Gershkovich was officially accredited as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and earlier this week was the author of a story focused on the economic slowdown in Russia sparked by Western sanctions imposed in response to the Ukraine invasion.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram that "what the employee of The Wall Street Journal was doing in Yekaterinburg was not journalism" while the Kremlin said Gershkovich was caught "red-handed." Neither, however, gave any evidence to back up their claims.
Gershkovich, whose family emigrated from Russia to the United States when he was a child, previously worked for Agence France-Presse, The Moscow Times, and The New York Times. His last article was published by The Wall Street Journal on March 28.
"The Wall Street Journal is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich," the WSJ said.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) immediately condemned Gershkovich's detention, calling it "retaliation" for reporting the facts from Russia.
"[Gershkovich] was investigating the Wagner military group. RSF is alarmed by what seems to be a 'retaliatory' measure: journalists must not be targeted!" the rights group's statement said.
Some analysts speculated the move may follow a similar pattern to the last American reporter to be arrested in Russia on espionage charges.
In 1986, Nicholas Daniloff was a correspondent for the U.S. News and World Report when he was detained by the KGB. He was held -- without formal charges being laid -- for 20 days until he was swapped for an employee working at the Soviet Union's United Nations mission in the United States who had been arrested by the FBI.
The two countries held a prisoner swap in December 2022 involving American basketball star Brittney Griner and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. t3xe bJ71 EFMk FXM0 TLsV KRO1 TuWr DbSH YAhM eKOw gYmk hzU9 njsf c2xG e6mH Q9oF riE6 HG1e 6WcS GGlP fGvd blbm 4jcz jG9b RUue
Updated Mar 30
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A Moscow court has granted a request from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) to arrest Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) who was detained in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and accused of espionage, a charge the U.S.-based...
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