Judge upholds detention of jailed US journalist Evan Gershkovich

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A Russian judge on Tuesday upheld the detention of jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on spying charges as part of a sweeping Kremlin crackdown on dissent amid the war in Ukraine.

Mr Gershkovich and the US government vehemently deny the allegations.

Dozens of journalists crowded into the courtroom to catch a glimpse of Mr Gershkovich, who looked calm as he stood inside a glass cage to appeal his detention.

Russia’s federal security service detained the 31-year-old in Yekaterinburg in March and accused him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.

Gershkovich, his employer and the US government deny he was involved in spying and have demanded his release.

The WSJ and its publisher, Dow Jones, called the ruling upholding Gershkovich’s detention “disappointing.”

Last week, the US officially declared that Mr Gershkovich was “wrongfully detained.”

He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Russian lawyers have said past investigations into espionage cases took a year to 18 months, during which time he could have little contact with the outside world.

He has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which dates from the tsarist era and has been a terrifying symbol of repression since Soviet times.

The arrest comes at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups.

Russia US Detained Reporter
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow city court (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Last month, a Russian court convicted a father over social media posts critical of the war and sentenced him to two years in prison.

On Monday, a Russian court convicted top opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr of treason for publicly denouncing the war and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

The US has pressed Moscow to grant consular access to Mr Gershkovich. US Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who attended Tuesday’s hearing, said a day earlier that she had visited Mr Gershkovich in prison.

She said on Twitter that “he is in good health and remains strong,” reiterating a US call for his immediate release.

US president Joe Biden spoke to Mr Gershkovich’s parents last week and again condemned his detention.

“We’re making it real clear that it’s totally illegal what’s happening, and we declared it so,” he said.

Mr Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested.

Mr Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

A top Russian diplomat said last week that Russia might be willing to discuss a potential prisoner swap with the US involving Mr Gershkovich after his trial. That means any exchange is unlikely to happen any time soon.

In December, American basketball star Brittney Griner was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout following her trial and conviction on drug possession charges.

She had been sentenced to nine years in prison and ended up spending 10 months behind bars.

Another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges, which his family and the US government have called baseless.

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