Russian judge agrees to extend Evan Gershkovich’s detention for three months
MOSCOW — A Moscow court, meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday, extended the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal accused of espionage, for more than three months, until August 30.
The denial of bail and the extension of Mr. Gershkovich’s detention were widely expected, although Russia has presented no evidence to support the charge of espionage, which is vehemently denied by the US government and the Wall Street Journal.
Mr Gershkovich’s parents, Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich, waited outside the courtroom for more than an hour before being allowed to see their son for the first time since his March 29 arrest.
They were taken away with one of Mr. Gershkovich’s lawyers at the end of the hearing. They did not comment on what they had seen. Before entering, Mr Gershkovich’s father said: “We hope he is well and can be as strong as his mother.” Ms. Gershkovich wore a “Free Evan” button.
Mr. Gershkovich was detained in Lefortovo prison since his arrest on March 29 during a reporting trip to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. If found guilty, Mr Gershkovich would face up to 20 years in a Russian penal colony.
US diplomats had said it was almost certain that Mr Gershkovich’s detention would be extended during the hearing and his bail request refused. Even at the best of times, a preliminary investigation into a spy case normally takes months, and a year can pass before a verdict is reached.
Russian-American relations are in a state of acute tension because of the war in Ukraine, a conflict which is still officially referred to in Russia as a “special military operation”, and President Vladimir V. Putin has embarked on a independent news suppression campaign. the media and freedom of expression in general.
Prior to the arrest of Mr Gershkovich, 31, no Western journalist had been charged with espionage in the country since the Cold War. During a hearing in a Moscow courtroom on April 18, reporters were allowed in and saw Mr. Gershkovich standing in a glass cage, red handcuff marks visible on his wrist. He smiled and, through his lawyer, declared his determination to defend his right to work freely as an accredited journalist.
Mr Putin has been quick to stifle criticism of the war, making it punishable by lengthy prison terms and taking other action against dissent. This has caused an exodus of war critics and many Russians who are worried about the direction of their country.
Lefortovo prison is notorious for the virtual isolation and often harsh conditions imposed on its inmates. Mr. Gershkovich has been generally isolated, diplomats said, but his lawyers have been allowed to see him regularly.
Russian authorities have denied two requests by US Ambassador to Russia Lynne M. Tracy to visit Mr. Gershkovich since she was allowed to see him under intense Russian scrutiny on April 17.
Dmitry S. Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said Mr Gershkovich had been caught “in the act”, but did not give details. Russia has provided no evidence to support the espionage charge against a journalist known for his extensive knowledge of the country and dogged reporting.
The United States government, the Journal, numerous colleagues, press freedom groups and prominent international officials have all condemned Mr. Gershkovich’s detention. They vehemently denied the charges against him.
The Biden administration has claimed that Mr Gershkovich was “wrongfully detained” – an official ruling that effectively says the United States considers him a political hostage and sets the stage for a wide range of measures to secure his release. The White House has called for his immediate release.
A prisoner exchange, like the one that freed American basketball star Brittney Griner late last year, would not take place until a verdict is reached in the case, Russian officials said. However, the Biden administration is known to work to secure an early release.