A Russian court on Tuesday extended the detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months. In a closed-door hearing typical of the secrecy surrounding the case against the only US correspondent imprisoned in Russia on spying charges since the Cold War.
Evan Gershkovich, a 31-year-old American citizen, has been ordered kept in custody until August 30. On a journalistic trip to Russia in March, he was jailed on espionage accusations. He, his company, and the United States government have all disputed the claims.
The pre-trial hearing on Tuesday was not advertised in advance, and the entire case has been shrouded in secrecy.
Russian authorities have not specified what evidence, if any, they have obtained to back the espionage claims.
Several court hearings in the case have been closed to the media. There was no immediate word on what was stated at Tuesday’s session. According to Tass, the session was cancelled because the reporter was accused of possessing “secret materials.”
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich’s parents, Soviet emigrants residing in New Jersey, were in Moscow and visited their son throughout the brief hearing.
“I don’t know how to describe this happiness and sadness at the same time,” the reporter’s mother, Ella Milman, was quoted as saying in the newspaper. She stated that Gershkovich appeared comfortable and in good spirits and that they spoke through smiles.
According to the US State Department, at least one US Embassy official also attended the session.
The arrest of Gershkovich has alarmed journalists in the country and sparked concern in the West.
The US government proclaimed Gershkovich’s detention to be illegal and demanded his immediate release. He is being incarcerated at the Lefortovo prison in Moscow.
Russia considers imprisoned Americans as negotiating chips
Since his detention in Yekaterinburg on March 29, US Embassy personnel have been allowed to visit Gershkovich in prison once. But Russian authorities have denied two additional requests to see him.
“We once again call on Russia to comply with their obligation to provide consular access to him,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington. He went on to say that the charges against Gershkovich “are baseless,” and that “we continue to call for his immediate release, as well as the immediate release of Paul Whelan.”
Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, is currently serving a 16-year espionage sentence in a remote Russian jail. The retired US Marine was apprehended in 2018. Whelan and the US government both deny he spied on Russia.
Whelan’s release was hoped for by the Biden administration during negotiations on a prisoner exchange that eventually freed American basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison last December.
According to analysts, Moscow may be using imprisoned Americans as negotiating chips in the midst of escalating US-Russian tensions over the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal remarked following the hearing on Tuesday, “While we expected no change to Evan’s wrongful detention. We are deeply disappointed.” The allegations are clearly untrue, and we continue to call for his immediate release.”