Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been locked up in Russia since his arrest on March 29. He had been detained in Yekaterinburg, accused of spying, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
On Tuesday a Russian court ruled to extend his detention as he still awaits trial. This means he’s about to spend 250 days in pre-trial confinement. A statement from the WSJ said “every day is a day too long” and condemned the espionage charges as “categorically false” – and as a “brazen and outrageous attack on a free press.”
The White House has previously denounced the spy charges as “ridiculous” and “totally illegal” – and moved quickly to designate him as unlawfully detained. This paves the way for potential hostage negotiations.
Gershkovich had reportedly been looking into a story related to a major state-backed defense technology firm, and his case marks the first American journalist to be held on spy charges since the Cold War.
Moscow’s Lefortovo district court said Tuesday: “The court ruled to extend the term of detention of Gershkovich, accused of a crime under Article 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, for up to 10 months, that is, until Jan. 30, 2024.”
Gershkovich and his lawyer have rejected the charges, and he maintains his innocence. Upon the latest ruling, the US Embassy in Moscow said, “We reiterate our call for his immediate release” and said it is “deeply concerned” by the court’s decision. His pre-trial detention had already been formally extended on at least one occasion before.
The perception among US officials is that Russia is growing more brazen in detaining US citizens, which can be used as bargaining chips to gain the release of high-profile Russians locked up in the West.
Certainly it worked in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has swapped for notorious arms trafficker Viktor Bout in Qatar on December 8, 2022. Griner had been arrested just weeks before the Russian army’s Feb. 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Embassy officials attended the hearing of wrongfully detained @WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich today at Lefortovo Court. We are deeply concerned by the court’s decision to extend his pre-trial detention by another 2 months. We reiterate our call for his immediate release. pic.twitter.com/spRy7KHevS
— Посольство США в РФ/ U.S. Embassy Russia (@USEmbRu) November 28, 2023
The US State Department has since urged all US citizens out of the country, citing “the potential for harassment and the singling out of U.S. citizens for detention by Russian government security officials.”
Other Americans have also long been imprisoned, including ex-Marine Paul Whelan and Marc Fogel. Their families expressed regret and outrage that US media had been so focused on Griner’s case, which ultimately led to her release.