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American Journalist’s Trial In Russia Set For June 26

Evan Gershkovich

US journalist Evan Gershkovich will go on trial on espionage charges in Russia’s Urals city of Yekaterinburg behind closed doors on June 26, the court overseeing the process said on Monday.

The Wall Street Journal reporter was arrested in March 2023 while on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg and has been held in Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison since.

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He became the first Western journalist since the Soviet era to be arrested for spying in Russia.

Last week, Russia’s prosecutor general accused him of working for the CIA and “collecting secret information” about tank maker Uralvagonzavod in the Sverdlovsk region where he was arrested.

The United States said the charges had “zero credibility” and the Wall Street Journal slammed Russia’s announcement as “outrageous”.

Moscow had not previously provided any public details of its case against Gershkovich, saying only that he was “caught red-handed”.

On Monday, the Sverdlovsk regional court handling the case said in a statement that the trial would start on June 26 and be held behind closed doors.

The 32-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Gershkovich, his family, his employer and Washington have denied all charges against him since the start, insisting that the outgoing journalist was just simply doing his job.

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge. Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous,” the Journal’s chief editor Emma Tucker and top executives said in a statement.

Washington last year declared Gershkovich “wrongfully detained”, which effectively means the White House regards him as a political hostage.

“We have been clear from the start that Evan has done nothing wrong. He should never have been arrested in the first place,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists last week.

“The charges against him are false, and the Russian government knows that they are false. He should be released immediately,” he added.

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting its citizens on baseless charges to use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of Russians convicted abroad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in February he would like to see Gershkovich freed as part of a prisoner exchange and that talks were ongoing.

But Putin made clear he wanted any deal to involve the release of a Russian jailed in Germany for killing a Chechen dissident.

The Kremlin again said Monday there was “contact” with the US on a possible exchange involving Gershkovich.

“But they (talks) need to be held in total silence,” its spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Among other US nationals detained in Russia is reporter Alsu Kurmasheva, detained last year for failing to register as a “foreign agent”. Her employers denounced the case against her as politically motivated.

Former US marine Paul Whelan, in prison in Russia since 2018 and serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, is also pushing to be included in any future prisoner exchange.

At Lefortovo prison, Gershkovich, who had worked for Agence France-Presse before joining The Wall Street Journal, shares a small cell with another inmate.

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