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19 June, 2024
 
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U.S. reporter arrested and accused of spying in Russia

Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was detained in Yekaterinburg and charged with espionage

Source: Reuters

Russia on Thursday charged an American correspondent for the Wall Street Journal with spying, in a case certain to escalate Moscow's diplomatic feud with Washington over the war in Ukraine and likely to further isolate Russia.

The newspaper denied the allegations and demanded the immediate release of "trusted and dedicated reporter" Evan Gershkovich. There was no immediate response from Washington.

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old who has worked in Russia as a journalist for six years, is the highest-profile American arrested there since basketball star Brittney Griner, who was freed in December after 10 months in jail on drugs charges.

The FSB said it arrested Gershkovich in the Urals industrial city of Yekaterinburg, "suspected of spying in the interests of the American government" by collecting information on "one of the enterprises of Russia's military-industrial complex", which it did not identify.

He was brought to Moscow, where a court at a closed hearing ordered him held in pre-trial detention until May 29. The TASS state news agency said he pleaded not guilty. The authorities released no evidence publicly, and TASS said the case had been marked "top secret".

Daniil Berman, a lawyer representing the reporter, was not permitted inside the courtroom or allowed to see the charges, Berman told reporters outside. He believed Gershkovich would be taken to Lefortovo, the 19th-century central Moscow jail notorious in Soviet times for holding political prisoners.

"The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich. We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family," the newspaper said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he believed Gershkovich had been "caught red-handed". Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of any possible prisoner swap with the United States, saying that such deals are typically arranged only after a prisoner is convicted.

The U.S. State Department's travel guidance, last updated in February this year, advises U.S. citizens not to go to Russia because of the danger of arbitrary arrest, and says those living or traveling there should depart immediately.

In addition to escalating Moscow's diplomatic conflict with the United States, the case could further isolate Russia by frightening away more of the few foreign journalists still working there.

The arrest was "a frontal attack on all foreign correspondents who still work in Russia. And it means that the FSB is off the leash", wrote Andrei Soldatov, a Russian journalist outside the country who specializes in the security services.

Moscow has effectively outlawed all independent Russian news outlets since the start of the war but has continued to accredit some foreign reporters. Journalism has become sharply limited by laws that impose long sentences for any public criticism of the war, which Russia refers to as a "special military operation".

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