US reporter detained in Russia on espionage charges files appeal

Russia Reporter Arrested
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre avoided definitely saying whether Evan Gershkovich, the <i>Wall Street Reporter</i> currently being detained in Russia, had ever worked for the U.S. government. (AP)

US reporter detained in Russia on espionage charges files appeal

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Detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has filed an appeal in court following his arrest under espionage charges in Russia.

The news of his appeal was reported by Russian state media TASS, which cited the press service of the Lefortovo Court of Moscow, as the American journalist was taken into custody last week.

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“The court has received an appeal from Gershkovich’s defense against his detention,” the court said, though no date appears to have been set by the Moscow City Court for the appeal hearing.

Gershkovich is currently being held in a pretrial detention center at the Lefortovo Prison until May 29, and he faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges that his outlet vehemently denies.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement on Thursday that they had arrested Gershkovich, claiming that he was “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

Biden administration officials have rebuked the arrest and called for Gershkovich’s release, including during a conversation over the weekend between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Blinken “conveyed the United States’s grave concern over Russia’s unacceptable detention of a U.S. citizen journalist,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said in a readout.

President Joe Biden also urged Russia to “let him go” in his first public comments on Gershkovich’s arrest. He also said the U.S. would not expel diplomats and Russian journalists off U.S. soil in response.

The State Department is working to determine whether he’s being wrongfully detained, which is a legal status as outlined in law and affects whether his case falls under the jurisdiction of the special envoy for hostage affairs while also opening the possibility for additional resources to be directed at securing his release.

State Department officials are also trying to get consular access to Gershkovich “very, very hard, and yet we’ve still not been able to do that,” National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

Gershkovich is the first U.S. journalist arrested on espionage allegations in Russia since the Cold War, though the Kremlin has arrested Americans on trumped-up charges — as described by U.S. government officials — on multiple instances in recent years.

The U.S. and Russia agreed to two prisoner swaps in 2022, both of which secured the release of one American each time, whom the Biden administration believed were being wrongfully detained, in exchange for two Russians convicted of crimes in the U.S. serving extended prison sentences. Both deals left behind another American who has been accused of and charged with espionage.

Paul Whelan was arrested in late 2018 while in Russia for a wedding under espionage allegations that both he, his family, and the U.S. government have denounced as false. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020.

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Blinken also urged the Kremlin to release Whelan during his conversation with Lavrov, according to Patel.

Days before Gershkovich’s arrest, the Wall Street Journal published his most recent piece, which predicted that the Russian economy is beginning to feel some of the worst impacts of sweeping sanctions imposed on it by Western powers. His arrest could have been prompted by his coverage in part due to restrictive laws applied to the media, though he was charged with espionage specifically.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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