Russia Puts American Reporter Evan Gershkovich on Trial for Espionage

The office of Russia’s Prosecutor General announced on Thursday that American journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been held for over a year without charges, has been formally accused of espionage and will be tried in Yekaterinburg. The date of the trial has not yet been announced.

Gershkovich, 32, was arrested on vague allegations of espionage in March 2023 while he was on a reporting trip to Russia. He has been held in Moscow’s infamous Lefortovo Prison – the grim dungeon where the KGB held and tortured its prisoners – ever since, despite a worldwide outcry from human rights organizations, journalist groups, and his employers at the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

Russian courts dismissed Gershkovich’s appeals and ordered him to remain in prison until the regime got around to charging him with something. The regime stubbornly refused to explain what crime he supposedly committed, insisting only that he was “caught red-handed” in Yekaterinburg. No evidence of his guilt has ever been presented.

Russian President Vladimir Putin all but admitted he was holding Gershkovich hostage in an interview with former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson in February. Putin said he would not consider releasing the reporter unless he was offered something in return, strongly hinting he wanted a Russian assassin named Vadim Krasikov who was sentenced to life in prison in Germany for a 2019 murder.

Putin did not get his hit man back – there have long been rumors that Putin ordered the death of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny in February 2024 to scuttle a Krasikov prisoner-exchange deal he did not like – and now Gershkovich has been indicted for espionage and will almost certainly be tried in secret. The indictment claims he was spying on a Russian defense contractor for the CIA when he was arrested.

The WSJ angrily denounced all of the charges against Gershkovich as “false” and his detention as “wrongful” on Thursday, repeating its demand for his immediate release.

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge. Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous,” said Almar Latour and Emma Tucker, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the WSJ, respectively.

“Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job. Evan is a journalist. The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies,” they said. 

“Journalism is not a crime. Evan’s case is an assault on free press,” Latour and Tucker declared.

A senior Biden administration official repeated the “journalism is not a crime” point and insisted Gershkovich as “done nothing wrong.”

“We expect Russian authorities to continue to provide consular access to Evan and Embassy Moscow will make efforts to attend any future proceedings. Russia should stop using individuals like Evan Gershkovich or Paul Whelan as bargaining chips. They should both be released immediately,” the official said.

Paul Whelan is a former Marine who has been detained in Russia since December 2018, also on vague espionage charges the U.S. government has denounced as completely false. The prisoner swap proposal that supposedly collapsed with Navalny’s death would have traded Gershkovich, Whelan, and Navalny for Vadim Krasikov.

Putin repeated at a press event last week that he expects “reciprocity” for releasing Gershkovich, and said American intelligence agencies have been “in touch on this issue” with their Russian counterparts.

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