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A Moscow court has rejected 'WSJ' reporter Evan Gershkovich's detention appeal

US journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on Apr 18, 2023
Natalia Kolesnikova
AFP via Getty Images
US journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow on Apr 18, 2023

Updated April 18, 2023 at 11:39 AM ET

MOSCOW — A Moscow court has rejected an appeal against the continued detention of American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who was apprehended on March 29 on charges of espionage.

Tuesday's hearing marked the first time the 31-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was seen in public since the initial hours following his detention by Russian security agents while he was on a reporting trip in the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg.

Journalists were allowed briefly into the court room, where Gershkovich could be seen inside a glass cage, dressed in a blue checked shirt and jeans, chatting with his lawyers and occasionally smiling at onlookers. Burly masked Federal Security Service officers flanked the defendant cage.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy was also present for portions of the otherwise closed hearing. Following the ruling, Tracy repeated U.S. government calls for Gershkovich's immediate release.

"I can only say how troubling it was to see Evan, an innocent journalist, held in these circumstances," said Tracy, who noted she had only been granted consular access to the American journalist Monday after two weeks of trying.

"I can report that he is in good health and remains strong despite his circumstances," Tracy said.

With the ruling, the judge rejected a more than $600,000 bail offer by The Wall Street Journal's parent company, Dow Jones, as well as a request to place him under house arrest pending trial, Gershkovich's lawyers said.

Gershkovich and his employers have vehemently rejected the espionage charges — which carry up to 20 years in prison in Russia.

"He would like to fight and prove that he is not guilty," says Maria Korchagina, one of the lawyers representing Gershkovich.

Korchagina told NPR her client will appeal the court's ruling but suggested the next hearing would come no sooner than late May.

"He's very glad for the huge support he's gotten from everybody," Korchagina said.

Until then, Gershkovich will remain in a cell at Moscow's Lefortovo prison, where his lawyers say he's been reading books like Leo Tolstoy's classic War and Peace, watching cooking shows and answering letters from well-wishers around the globe.

The U.S. State Department has labeled Gershkovich "wrongfully detained" — a designation that initiates government efforts to secure his release.

"Journalism is not a crime," State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in a statement last week. "We call for the Russian Federation to immediately release Mr. Gershkovich."

Following Tuesday's court ruling, The Wall Street Journal's publisher and editor-in-chief said in a statement, "While we expected this development, it is nonetheless disappointing." They added, "Evan is wrongfully detained and the charges of espionage against him are false. We demand his immediate release and are doing everything in our power to secure it."

Senior Russian officials have repeatedly insisted, without providing evidence, that Gershkovich was caught "red-handed" trying to gather state secrets about a military factory.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has also hinted at a potential future prisoner swap for Gershkovich, but only once the legal process runs its course.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Charles Maynes
[Copyright 2024 NPR]