U.S Journalist Evan Gershkovich Faces Espionage Trial in Russia

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YEKATERINBURG, Russia, June 26 (Reuters) – Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, now shaven-headed, appeared in a Russian court on Wednesday to face espionage charges in a closed-door trial.

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Prosecutors allege that Gershkovich, acting on behalf of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, gathered secret information about a company that manufactures tanks for Russia’s war in Ukraine. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. government have all denied the allegations, maintaining that he was performing his duties as a journalist accredited by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

“His case is not about evidence, procedural norms, or the rule of law. It is about the Kremlin using American citizens to achieve its political objectives,” the U.S. embassy in Moscow said in a statement, calling for Gershkovich’s immediate release.

The court proceedings, which were closed to the media, lasted several hours before being adjourned until August 13, suggesting the trial may extend for months. The reason for the lengthy delay was not disclosed.

Before the trial began, journalists were briefly allowed to film the 32-year-old Gershkovich, who was seen wearing an open-necked shirt and standing in a glass box, smiling faintly and nodding at colleagues.

Prosecutor Mikael Ozdoyev summarized the charges for reporters, stating that Gershkovich, under CIA instructions, collected secret information about a defense enterprise involved in the production and repair of military equipment. However, Ozdoyev later corrected himself, noting that the alleged offense occurred in March 2023, the month of Gershkovich’s arrest.

Closed trials are common in Russia for cases involving treason or espionage, often lasting several months. The Kremlin insists that the case is a matter for the court and claims, without presenting evidence, that Gershkovich was caught “red-handed.”

Gershkovich’s trial takes place amid heightened tensions between Moscow and Washington, exacerbated by the Ukraine war. President Vladimir Putin has indicated openness to a potential prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, though such discussions are to remain confidential.

The U.S. has accused Russia of “hostage diplomacy” and has designated Gershkovich and another jailed American, Paul Whelan, as “wrongfully detained,” committing to efforts to secure their release. The U.S. embassy stated that Russian authorities have not provided evidence to support the charges against Gershkovich or explained why his journalistic activities constitute a crime.

Gershkovich was arrested by FSB officers in Yekaterinburg on March 29, 2023, and has since been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison. The Wall Street Journal has declined to comment on the specifics of his reporting trip to Russia’s Urals region or the prosecutors’ allegation that he sought information on Uralvagonzavod, a tank supplier for the Ukraine conflict.

“He was there as an accredited journalist, doing his job,” Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour told Reuters before the trial.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many Western news organizations withdrew their staff. Russia then enacted laws imposing long prison terms for “discrediting” the armed forces or spreading “fake news” about them. Gershkovich was among a few Western reporters who continued to work in Russia, including journalists from Reuters.

In a related case, Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was arrested last year and awaits trial for allegedly violating Russia’s “foreign agent” law and spreading false information about the armed forces, charges she denies. Additionally, French researcher Laurent Vinatier was recently arrested for allegedly failing to register as a foreign agent while gathering information on Russia’s military.

By Naija247news
By Naija247newshttps://www.naija247news.com/
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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