A Moscow court extended the pre-trial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by at least another three months after Russian authorities arrested the American journalist on espionage charges.
Gershkovich, 31, was arrested while reporting in Yekaterinburg, located in the Ural Mountains, on espionage charges back in March and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Investigators accused Gershkovich of acting on instructions from U.S. officials by collecting state secret information involving the Russian military, which the journalist, his employer, and U.S. officials have all denied.
“By the decision of the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow dated May 23, 2023, the term of detention in respect of Evan Gershkovich, accused of committing a crime under Article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, was extended for three months and one day, that is, until August 30, 2023,” the court decision read.
Russian news agency TASS reported that Federal Security Service (FSB) investigators requested the Lefortovo Court of Moscow extend Gershkovich’s detention.
The Wall Street Journal said the outlet was “deeply disappointed” in the court’s decision.
“Today, our colleague, and distinguished journalist, Evan Gershkovich, appeared for a pre-trial hearing in a Moscow court,” the statement read. “While we expected there would be no change to Evan’s wrongful detention, we are deeply disappointed. The accusations are demonstrably false, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”
Legal experts told the outlet that Russia’s Criminal Procedure Code could permit defendants facing espionage charges to be detained for up to 12 months before trial begins.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN that Gershkovich “shouldn’t be detained at all,” calling for Russian authorities to release the reporter immediately.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally declared last month that Russian authorities had wrongfully detained Gershkovich, giving federal officials additional resources to secure his release, including providing the State Department access to “exert pressure on Moscow, monitor intelligence, build diplomatic coalitions, exert media pressure and fight for regular consular access.”
Blinken announced the official classification, giving control to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department.
“Journalism is not a crime,” Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesperson, told NBC in a statement. “We condemn the Kremlin’s continued repression of independent voices in Russia and its ongoing war against the truth.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly authorized Kremlin officials to arrest Gershkovich.
Sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Putin’s arrest of the reporter marks “the growing influence of Kremlin hardliners who push for deepening a confrontation with Washington they view as irreversible.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the United States was politicizing Gershokovich’s detention, saying, “It is unacceptable for officials in Washington and the Western media to whip up a stir with the clear intention of giving this case a political coloring.”
Gershkovich became the first American journalist arrested on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War.