Russian authorities charge US reporter Evan Gershkovich with espionage

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Lefortovo Prison in 2016.
Image: A.Savin.

On Friday, investigators for Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) charged journalist Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen employed at The Wall Street Journal, with espionage.

Gershkovich, 31, "categorically denied" the charges, saying he was only reporting, according to a TASS source.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, wrote in a joint statement Friday: "Let there be no mistake: journalism is not a crime...We demand the baseless, fabricated charges against Mr. Gershkovich be dropped and he be immediately released and reiterate our condemnation of the Russian government's continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish independent journalists and civil society voices."

The FSB arrested Gershkovich in Yekaterinburg, Ural Federal District on March 30, alleging "acting at the behest of the American side, [he] collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of an enterprise within Russia's military-industrial complex." This was the first time Russia charged a US reporter with espionage since the Cold War.

The Journal has called for an end to the detention of its "trusted and dedicated reporter" and called it "a vicious affront to a free press, and should spur outrage in all free people and governments throughout the world."

On April 3, national security spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing: "We will do everything we can to get Evan home [...] I don't have anything in terms of details of what it would take specifically to negotiate with the Russians on his release."

The next day, Karine Jean-Pierre, press secretary for the US president, told media: "Evan is not a spy; Evan has never been a spy [...] This is a case that is a priority for the president."

Gershkovich first met with his attorneys April 4. As of the following day, he was jailed at Lefortovo Prison in eastern Moscow. The Washington Post said Lefortovo is notorious for its isolation of prisoners; it was constructed for the military of the Russian Empire in 1881, and was used by the Soviet Union's KGB.