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Moscow court refuses to hear appeal by detained US journalist Evan Gershkovich

This is the first instance of a Western journalist being arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the end of the Cold War

Maroosha Muzaffar
Wednesday 20 September 2023 08:22 BST
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WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich appears in Russian court for appeal hearing

A Moscow court has shot down an appeal by Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich challenging a decision to extend his pre-trial detention.

Gershkovich, 31, was arrested almost six months ago in Russia on spying charges. Russian officials accused him of collecting state secrets about the military. He – along with the Wall Street Journal and the US government – denies these allegations.

The decision to extend his pre-trial detention had been made in August.

Last week, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Gershkovich’s family called for his immediate release from Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

The Moscow city court on Tuesday upheld its initial ruling. A judge in Lefortovo Court in Moscow extended the journalist’s pre-trial detention until 30 November. The hearing was held behind closed doors.

The WSJ journalist will remain in jail until then, reported Russia’s Tass news agency.

“The Moscow City Court considered the lawyers’ complaint in a closed court session and decided to remove the material regarding E Gershkovich from appeal consideration, and send the material to the Lefortovo District Court of Moscow to eliminate the circumstances impeding the consideration of the criminal case in the appellate court,” the court said in a statement.

It remains unclear why the court refused to consider Gershkovich’s appeal. The case is expected to be returned to a lower court.

The 31-year-old American citizen had been granted accreditation by Russia’s foreign ministry to work there as a journalist. He was arrested by agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, during a reporting assignment in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on 29 March this year.

This is the first instance of a Western journalist being arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the end of the Cold War.

If Gershkovich gets convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison. According to Russian law, people found guilty of espionage can potentially receive a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

US envoy to Russia Lynne Tracy, who was present in the courtroom on Tuesday, told the media: “The US position remains unwavering. The charges against Evan are baseless. The Russian government locked Evan up for simply doing his job. Journalism is not a crime.”

“Evan is fully aware of the gravity of his situation, yet he remains remarkably strong,” she said.

To mark Gershkovich’s 100 days in jail since July this year, the White House press secretary said: “The world knows that the charges against Evan are baseless – he was arrested in Russia during the course of simply doing his job as a journalist, and he is being held by Russia for leverage because he is an American.”

After visiting the journalist in prison, Ms Thomas-Greenfield said: “No family should have to watch their loved one being used as a political pawn. And that’s exactly what President [Vladimir] Putin is doing. Russia’s actions are beyond cruel, and they are a violation of international law.”

US president Joe Biden said in July that he was “serious on a prisoner exchange”.

“And I’m serious about doing all we can to free Americans being illegally held in Russia, or anywhere else for that matter, and that process is underway,” he said.

“President [Joe] Biden spoke to us and gave us a promise to do whatever it takes” to bring Gershkovich home, his parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, said in a July interview with ABC News.

“He told us he understands our pain,” said Ms Milman, the mother of the WSJ journalist.

In a letter earlier this month to the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention, lawyers for the WSJ’s publisher accused Mr Putin of using Gershkovich as a pawn and of “holding him hostage.”

The lawyers argue that Mr Putin wants to use Gershkovich “to gain leverage over – and extract a ransom from – the United States, just as he has done with other American citizens whom he has wrongfully detained”.

The letter said Gershkovich’s ongoing detention “is a flagrant violation of many of his fundamental human rights”.

In June this year, nearly three dozen US senators wrote a letter to Gershkovich expressing their “profound anger and concern” over his detention in the Russian prison.

The letter said a “free press is crucial to the foundation and support of human rights everywhere” and that every day he spends in a Russian prison “is a day too long”.

“We applaud you for your efforts to report the truth about Russia’s reprehensible invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that has resulted in untellable atrocities, tragedies, and loss of life,” the letter read.

It said the senators “understand the enormous burden you may feel as the Russian government uses you as a political tool”.

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