Worrying sign for US journalist Evan Gershkovich jailed in Russia

A journalist who the United States says was “unjustly detained” by Russia will be tried on espionage charges, Moscow said.

Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich was arrested in March 2023 while on a reporting trip in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg and has been held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison ever since.

In a statement on Thursday, Russia’s prosecutor general accused him of working for the CIA and gathering secret information about tank maker Uralvagonzavod in the Sverdlovsk region where he was arrested.

Colleagues in London rush to support detained WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich

He said he had sent a criminal case against him to the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in Yekaterinburg “for consideration on the merits,” without specifying when the trial would take place.

Moscow had previously provided no public details of its case against Gershkovich, saying only that he had been “caught red-handed.”

Gershkovich became the first Western journalist since the Soviet era to be arrested for espionage in Russia while in prison.

The 32-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Unjustly detained

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting US citizens on unfounded charges to use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of Russians sentenced abroad.

The US government has declared that Gershkovich is being wrongfully detained, meaning that it effectively considers him a political hostage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February that he would like to see Gershkovich released as part of a prisoner exchange.

In a speech to conservative American television commentator Tucker Carlson, he said that talks were underway between Russia and the United States on a possible exchange.

However, the Russian leader has made it clear that he wants any deal to result in the release of a Russian jailed in Germany for killing a Chechen dissident.

Other US citizens detained in Russia include journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was arrested last year for failing to register as a “foreign agent.” Her employers have denounced the case against her as politically motivated.

Former US Marine Paul Whelan, in prison in Russia since 2018 and serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, is also pushing to be included in any future prisoner swaps.

Gershkovich’s family told AFP earlier this year they were counting on a “very personal” promise from President Joe Biden to bring him home.

In Lefortovo prison, the journalist shares a small cell with another inmate. Every day he takes an hour-long walk in the small prison courtyard, tries to stay fit through exercise and relies on fruit and vegetables sent by friends to supplement his meager prison diet.

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