June 4, 2023

Evan Gershkovich, the 31-year-old American journalist working for the Wall Street Journal out of its Moscow bureau, was arrested in March on espionage charges. Evan, the Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. State Department deny this accusation. The State Department has determined Evan to be “wrongfully detained” and is making an aggressive push for his release, or so the secretary of state and the president say.

Today during an unannounced hearing, Evan’s pretrial detention was extended by three months, Russian news agencies are reporting. He was ordered held until Aug. 30.

The entire case has been wrapped in secrecy. Russian authorities have not detailed what evidence they have to support the espionage charges. The legal proceedings have been closed to the media. Keeping in this manner of secrecy, no details have yet been provided about whether or not Evan or U.S. embassy representatives attended today’s hearing. The Russian news agency Tass reports that the hearing was closed because Evan is accused of possession of secret materials.

What makes Gershkovich’s case particularly noteworthy is that he is the first journalist detained in Russia on spying charges since the end of the Cold War. It has drawn outrage from the West. The U.S. government demands his immediate release. He is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, the same prison American Paul Whelan was taken to when he was arrested, also on espionage charges. Evan was arrested in Yekaterinburg while on a reporting trip. So far, the U.S. embassy has only been allowed one visit with Evan at the prison since his arrest in March. Other visits have been denied.

In a hearing before a judge at Lefortovo District Court in Moscow, investigators from the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, asked for Gershkovich to remain behind bars awaiting trial, state news agency TASS said.

The FSB, without providing evidence, has said Gershkovich “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.”

In a statement, the Journal said, “Today our colleague, and distinguished journalist, Evan Gershkovich appeared for a pretrial hearing in a Moscow court. While we expected there would be no change to Evan’s wrongful detention, we are deeply disappointed. The accusations are demonstrably false, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”

The White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Evan “shouldn’t be detained at all.” He called for his immediate release after hearing about today’s actions.

The nature of Russia’s criminal justice system does not bode well for Evan, made worse by the fact that he is charged with espionage

Legal experts say defendants in Russia, particularly those accused of serious crimes such as espionage, face long odds in successfully challenging their detention, securing house arrest or being released on bail.

In complex criminal cases, the period of detention before trial can be extended for up to 12 months, according to Russia’s Criminal Procedure Code, if a court permits. A further extension can be granted in exceptional circumstances. As a result, defendants can remain in prison for months while prosecutors and investigators assemble their case.

While Russia’s justice system normally guarantees the right to a jury trial in public, espionage trials are usually heard by judges behind closed doors, as in most countries, because evidence is often classified, meaning that Gershkovich’s case is likely to be held in secret.

Evan is accredited to work as a journalist in Russia by the country’s Foreign Ministry.