A court in Moscow extended the pretrial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges last year, until March 30.
The American journalist, the Wall Street Journal and the U.S. deny all the espionage charges. Friday’s ruling marks the fourth time Gershkovich’s pretrial detention has been extended since he was arrested, meaning he’ll have spent a year behind bars before a trial even begins.
Following Gershkovich’s hearing on Friday, the Wall Street Journal released a statement saying in part: “It is chilling and outrageous that Evan has now spent 10 months of his life in prison, simply for doing his job. While these are clearly sham proceedings about patently false charges, we intend to appeal today’s ruling, as we have in the past. Journalism is not a crime, and we continue to demand Evan’s immediate release.”
During an end-of-year news conference in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the U.S. and Moscow were engaged in “dialogue” about a possible prisoner swap for two Americans currently detained in Russia: Gershkovich and U.S. Marine veteran Paul Whelan.
“A dialogue on the subject is under way,” Putin said at the Dec. 14 press conference. “It's a difficult dialogue, and I won't go into the details now, but I think on the whole we're speaking in a language which we both understand. I hope we find a solution.”
What has the State Department said?
As of Friday afternoon, the State Department hadn’t released a statement regarding the latest extension of Gershkovich’s pretrial detention.
On Dec. 5, the State Department said that the Biden administration made a new offer to secure the release of Gershkovich and Whelan, but Moscow rejected it. The State Department didn’t reveal the details of the offer or why Moscow rejected it.
Following Putin’s remarks on Dec. 14, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “We would welcome them engaging seriously with us to obtain the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, but so far we have seen them refuse to take us up on our proposals, and we hope that they will change the way they’ve handled this going forward.”
Who is Evan Gershkovich?
Gershkovich, 32, is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and was accredited to work as a journalist by the Russian Foreign Ministry, according to the Journal.
He was detained by the country's Federal Security Service on March 29, 2023, while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, about 1,200 miles east of Moscow, just a day after he co-authored an article on Russia’s declining economy following its invasion of Ukraine.
He was accused of espionage, though Russian authorities haven’t provided detailed evidence to support the allegation. Gershkovich is being held at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, infamous for its harsh conditions.
What else has happened in Gershkovich’s case?
Gershkovich has three days to appeal the Moscow court’s Jan. 26 decision, though previous appeals for his release ahead of trial have been denied.
Russia has said it will consider a prisoner swap for Gershkovich, but only after there is a verdict in his espionage trial. It hasn’t been determined when he might face a trial, but an espionage trial in Russia could take many months, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Who is Paul Whelan?
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, is a corporate security executive from Michigan who holds U.S., Canadian, British and Irish citizenships. He has been detained by Russian authorities for over five years — since Dec. 28, 2018 — and was imprisoned on espionage charges for his alleged involvement in an intelligence operation. He, his family and the U.S. have said the allegation is false. Whelan said he was in Moscow to attend a friend’s wedding.
In 2020 Whelan was sentenced to 16 years in a remote prison labor camp in Mordovia, where he has been detained ever since. “If I had known that there would be any sort of problem, I would never have come here,” Whelan told CNN via phone from the prison camp in December.
Whelan also called on President Biden to “please use every resource available to secure my release as you would do if your own son had been taken hostage.”
What’s the latest on Whelan’s case?
Back in July 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a proposal was made to Moscow for the release of Whelan and WNBA star Brittney Griner. Griner was released in a prisoner swap in December 2022, but Whelan wasn’t part of the deal.
Whelan told the BBC in December that he feels like the U.S. has left him behind.
"A serious betrayal. It's extremely frustrating," Whelan said. "I know that the U.S. has come up with all sorts of proposals — serious proposals — but it's not what the Russians are after. So they keep going back and forth. The only problem is, it's my life that's draining away while they do this."