US reporter Evan Gershkovich, held in Russia on espionage charges, to face trial

13 June 2024, 18:54

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich waves and smiles as he stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, on April 23 2024
Russia US Journalist. Picture: PA

The 32-year-old was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the United States.

US journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed for more than a year in Russia on espionage charges, will stand trial in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, where he was detained, authorities said.

An indictment of The Wall Street Journal reporter has been finalised and his case was filed to the Sverdlovsky Regional Court in the city about 1,400 kilometres (870 miles) east of Moscow, according to Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office.

Gershkovich, 32, is accused of “gathering secret information” on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility in the Sverdlovsk region that produces and repairs military equipment, the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement, revealing for the first time the details of the accusations against him.

The officials did not provide any evidence to back up the accusations.

There was no word on when the trial would begin.

US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller criticised the development, saying there was “absolutely zero credibility to those charges” and adding that the US government would continue to work to bring Gershkovich home.

“Evan has done nothing wrong. He should never have been arrested in the first place. Journalism is not a crime,” Mr Miller said.

“The charges against him are false. And the Russian government knows that they’re false. He should be released immediately.”

The Biden administration has sought to negotiate his release, but Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Moscow would consider a prisoner swap only after a verdict in his trial.

Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the United States.

The reporter, his employer and the US government denied the allegations, and Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) alleged at the time he was acting on US orders to collect state secrets but also provided no evidence.

“Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous,” according to a statement by Almar Latour, Dow Jones chief executive and publisher of the Journal, and Emma Tucker, the Journal’s editor in chief.

They added that the charges against Gershkovich were “false and baseless”.

“The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime. Evan’s case is an assault on free press,” the statement said.

“We had hoped to avoid this moment and now expect the US government to redouble efforts to get Evan released.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a microphone as he speaks to employees at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, 116km north of Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Roger Carstens, the Biden administration’s special presidential envoy who serves as the US government’s top hostage negotiator, said that though he had been hopeful about striking a deal to get Gershkovich home before this point, the latest development “doesn’t slow or stop us down”.

“The bottom line is, this was not unexpected,” he said.

Uralvagonzavod, a state tank and railroad car factory in the city of Nizhny Tagil about 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Yekaterinburg, became known in 2011-12 as a bedrock of support for President Vladimir Putin.

The plant foreman appeared on Mr Putin’s annual phone-in programme in December 2011 and denounced mass protests occurring in Moscow at the time as a threat to “stability”, proposing that he and his colleagues travel to the capital to help suppress the unrest.

A week later, Mr Putin appointed the plant foreman to be his envoy in the region.

Mr Putin has said he believed a deal could be reached to free Gershkovich, hinting he would be open to swapping him for a Russian national imprisoned in Germany, which appeared to be Vadim Krasikov.

He was serving a life sentence for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Asked last week by The Associated Press about Gershkovich, Mr Putin said the US is “taking energetic steps” to secure his release.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich gives a thumbs-up and smiles as he stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, on April 23 2024
Evan Gershkovich in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow in April (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

He told international news agencies in St Petersburg that any such releases “aren’t decided via mass media” but through a “discreet, calm and professional approach”.

“And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity,” he added in an allusion to a potential prisoner swap.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

He was the first US journalist taken into custody on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986 at the height of the Cold War.

Gershkovich’s arrest shocked foreign journalists in Russia, even though the country had enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

The son of Soviet emigres who settled in New Jersey, Gershkovich was fluent in Russian and moved to the country in 2017 to work for The Moscow Times newspaper before being hired by the Journal in 2022.

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has been held at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison, a notorious tsarist-era prison used during Joseph Stalin’s purges, when executions were carried out in its basement.

US ambassador Lynne Tracy, who regularly visited Gershkovich in prison and attended his court hearings, has called the charges against him “fiction” and said that Russia is “using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends”.

Since sending troops to Ukraine, Russian authorities have detained several US nationals and other Westerners, seemingly bolstering that idea.

By Press Association

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