On Thursday, Russia’s Federal Security Service, known by the acronym FSB, arrested American journalist Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent in Russia. According to a press release from the FSB, Gershkovich “was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret,” and was therefore arrested on espionage charges.
At the time of the arrest, Gershkovich was in the city of Yekaterinburg, about 1,670 kilometers east of Moscow, in the Ural region. According to the NGO Reporters Without Borders, the journalist was in Yekaterinburg to investigate the Wagner Group, the paramilitary company financed by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef".
The Wall Street Journal confirmed the arrest in a brief statement in which it expressed "deep concern for Gershkovich's safety" and in which it "vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release" of the journalist.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is escorted by officers from the Lefortovsky court to a bus, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
According to the Associated Press news agency, it is the first time since the Cold War that a US journalist has been detained on espionage charges. The last time it happened was in 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for the U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB secret services, the ancestor of the FSB.
Gershkovich was then transferred to a prison in Moscow, where according to reports from the Russian news agency TASS he is expected to remain in pre-trial detention until May 29. The Wall Street Journal reporter will now face trial and up to 20 years in prison. Investigations into espionage allegations can take up to 18 months in Russia, a time Gershkovich could spend in complete isolation.
According to lawyer Yevgeny Smirnov, heard by the Associated Press, people arrested on espionage and treason charges are usually held at the Lefortovo prison, where they are placed in total isolation, without phone calls, visitors or even access to newspapers. They can only receive letters, which are usually delayed by weeks. Smirnov called these conditions “tools of suppression.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Telegram that “what the employee of the Wall Street Journal had been doing in Yekaterinburg is not journalism. Unfortunately this is not the first time when under the status of the 'foreign correspondent,' a journalist visa and accreditation are used by foreigners in our country to cover up activities which have nothing to do with journalism. This is not the first famous Westerner to be caught red-handed.”
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich (evangerhkovich.com)
It is possible that the FSB's accusations against Gershkovich are politically motivated, and that in fact, his release could be part of a more significant prisoner exchange deal, as happened with US basketball star Britteny Griner. Griner had been detained for 10 months on charges of drug smuggling after being arrested at the Moscow airport. Griner was then involved in a prisoner swap with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had been detained in the United States for 10 years.
According to Russian defense attorney Ivan Pavlov, the case against Gershkovich was built to give Russia “trump cards” for a future prisoner exchange and will likely be resolved “not by the means of the law, but by political, diplomatic means.” During his interview with the Associated Press, Pavlov said that Gershkovich's case is the first criminal espionage charge against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia and that there have been no acquittals in treason and espionage cases in Russia since 1999.
Edited by: Ritaja Kar
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