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US reporter Gershkovich appears in Russian court to appeal detention

2023-04-17T13:44:05Z

MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, who denies a Russian accusation he is a spy, appeared in a Moscow courtroom on Tuesday at a hearing to appeal a decision to keep him in pre-trial detention in a former KGB prison until at least May 29.

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Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March while on a reporting trip and charged with espionage, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his detention, in Moscow, Russia April 18, 2023. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, looked calm and smiled as he stood in a glass and metal cage, wearing a checked shirt with his arms folded in front of him.

He did not say anything, but turned around when one of the Russian reporters in the courtroom told him to “Hold fast!” and relayed to him that everyone said “Hi”. U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy stood nearby.

Russia’s FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry a possible 20-year prison sentence for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex, a charge he denies.

The Kremlin has said Gershkovich, the first U.S. journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, was caught “red-handed.”

The United States has deemed him “wrongfully detained,” his employer and colleagues have said he is innocent, and President Joe Biden has called his detention illegal.

Tuesday’s hearing is essentially procedural, covering how Gershkovich should be detained as he awaits trial, not about the substance of the charges against him as investigators are still working on the details of the case.

Court documents gave nothing more than basic details about the case. The court said it was forbidden to publish some documents. A Russian lawyer for Gershkovich did not respond to a request for comment.

Gershkovich, the American son of Soviet emigres, is being held at the Lefortovo prison, which in Soviet times was run by the KGB but is now operated by the Federal Penitentiary Service.

Traditionally it has been used to hold those suspected by the FSB of spying and other grave crimes.

Tracy, the U.S. Ambassador, said on Monday she had made her first visit to Gershkovich.

“He feels well and is holding up. We reiterate our call for Evan’s immediate release,” Tracy said in a statement.

In Washington, the White House said it hopes to get regular consular access to Gershkovich.

“It was good to get to see him today and again we want to make sure we can continue to do that,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.

The United States last week designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained”, in effect saying that the spy charges were bogus and the case was political.

The U.S. hostage envoy has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to bring home Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American ex-Marine who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and has also been designated by Washington as wrongfully detained.

A spokesperson for The Wall Street Journal did not respond on Monday to a request for comment.