The incarceration of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, has caused an international scandal, as he is the first U.S. correspondent since the Cold War to be detained for alleged spying.
Russian authorities arrested Gershkovich, 31, on March 29, in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, for purportedly trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory. However, The Wall Street Journal denied the allegations, and on Friday, Gershkovich formally denied espionage charges, according to two Russian news agencies.
Tass and Interfax news agencies reported that a law enforcement source had informed them that Russias Federal Security Service, known as the FSB, had officially charged the American journalist with espionage.
The news outlets did not mention when it happened, nor in what form Gershkovich was formally charged, but usually, suspects are presented with an accusation paper outlining the charges.
In the Russian legal system, filing charges and a response from the accused represent the start of a criminal probe, initiating what could be a long and secretive Russian judicial process.
Tass quoted its source as saying: “The FSB investigation charged Gershkovich with espionage in the interests of his country. He categorically denied all accusations and stated that he was engaged in journalistic activities in Russia.” However, the source declined to give further comment because the case is considered secret.
The case has caused international concern, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., issuing a rare bipartisan statement on Friday, demanding that Russia immediately release Gershkovich. They emphasized that “journalism is not a crime” and hailed Gershkovich as an “internationally known and respected independent journalist.”
The US ambassador to Russia and a top Russian diplomat met on Thursday to discuss the case. In the meeting with US Ambassador Lynne T. Tracy, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emphasized “the serious nature of the charges” against Gershkovich, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.
The statement reiterated earlier Russian claims that the reporter “was caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, using his journalistic status as a cover for illegal actions.”
Lawyers representing Gershkovich met with him for the first time since his detention on Tuesday, according to The Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Emma Tucker.
She confirmed that the reporter is in good health and “is grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world. We continue to call for his immediate release.”
Gershkovich was ordered to be held behind bars for two months in Russia pending an investigation.
A Moscow court said Monday that it had received a defense appeal of his arrest; the appeal is scheduled to be heard on April 18, Russian news agencies reported