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US newspaper reporter arrested in Russia on spy charges

The Russian government says it will grant the United States consular access to a Wall Street Journal reporter charged with spying.

March 31, 2023
31 March 2023

Russia has charged a US correspondent for the Wall Street Journal with spying, the first time a US reporter has been put behind bars on espionage accusations since the Cold War.

The newspaper denied the allegations and demanded the immediate release of “trusted and dedicated reporter” Evan Gershkovich. 

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old who has worked in Russia as a journalist for six years, is the highest-profile US citizen arrested there since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed in December after 10 months in jail on drugs charges.

The FSB said it arrested Gershkovich in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg, “suspected of spying in the interests of the American government” by collecting information on “one of the enterprises of Russia’s military-industrial complex”, which it did not identify.

He was brought to Moscow, where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until May 29.

Gershkovich, who has been working for the WSJ for just over a year, told the court he was not guilty. 

The Russian government said it would grant the United States consular access to Gershkovich.

“Through diplomatic channels, the US side has requested consular access to US citizen Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in Yekaterinburg on espionage charges,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters.

“Consular access to him will be granted in due course.”

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.

Espionage under Russian law can be punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

Zakharova said the case against Gershkovich would be made public.

Daniil Berman, a lawyer representing the reporter, was not permitted inside the courtroom or allowed to see the charges, Berman told media outside. 

He believed Gershkovich would be taken to Lefortovo, the 19th century central Moscow jail notorious in Soviet times for holding political prisoners.

“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,” the newspaper said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he believed Gershkovich had been “caught red-handed”. 

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of any possible prisoner swap with the United States, saying that such deals are typically arranged only after a prisoner is convicted.

Rossiya-24 state TV ran a segment of nearly five minutes on Gershkovich’s arrest about 17 minutes into its 6pm bulletin.

Its correspondent said Gershkovich’s work had an “openly propagandist character,” citing as evidence a story carrying his byline this week that was headlined “Russia’s Economy is Starting to Come Undone”.

The Russian TV report noted that the Yekaterinburg region where he was detained is a major hub of Russia’s defence industry, suggesting this was the object of his “curiosity”.

The US State Department’s travel guidance advises US citizens not to go to Russia because of the danger of arbitrary arrest, and says those living there should depart immediately.

The arrest was “a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash,” wrote Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist outside the country who specialises in the security services.

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