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WSJ journalist Evan Gershkovich’s espionage trial begins in Russia

The closed-door trial of American journalist Evan Gershkovich began Wednesday in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, 15 months after he was arrested and charged with espionage while reporting.

This is the first time since the Cold War that an American journalist has been tried for espionage in Russia. Gershkovich appeared calm in court Wednesday, smiling and greeting colleagues who had traveled to Yekaterinburg — nearly 900 miles east of Moscow — to report on the trial’s opening moments. Gershkovich’s head had been shaved, as is typical for prisoners in the Russian prison system.

Russian prosecutors announced earlier this month that they had finalized an indictment and had “established and documented” that Gershkovich had “collected secret information” about the Uralvagonzavod military plant in the region of Sverdlovsk in Russia while “on assignment for the CIA.”

Although Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Gershkovich was caught “red-handed,” no evidence was ever made public.

Gershkovich, the White House and his employer, the Wall Street Journal, deemed the accusations baseless. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

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Gershkovich, 32, American citizen who had worked as an accredited journalist in Russia for six years, has been in pre-trial detention at Lefortovo prison in Moscow since his arrest in March 2023.

His case was transferred this month to a court in Yekaterinburg, where Gershkovich was initially arrested, and he was transferred to a detention center in the city. As is typical for Russian espionage cases, the trial will remain behind closed doors and is expected to last several months.

Last year, the State Department declared Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, arrested in 2018 on similar charges, wrongfully detained, a designation that commits the federal government to working for their release. The Kremlin has indicated it is open to the possibility of swapping Gershkovich for high-value Russian nationals imprisoned abroad once the verdict is delivered.

President Vladimir Putin told right-wing US talk show host Tucker Carlson in February, in his first interview with a Western media personality since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, that “an agreement can be concluded” with the United States to release Gershkovich. During the meeting, Putin indicated he wanted to secure the release of Vadim Krasikov, an alleged Russian intelligence agent convicted of the murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin in 2019.

Asked again about the subject during an interview with international journalists in April, Putin said that U.S. and Russian authorities continued to “maintain contacts on this issue.”

“I know that the US administration is taking strong steps to secure his release. It’s true. It is not the media that decides these issues, they prefer a discreet, calm and professional approach and dialogue between security services,” he said. “And these decisions must certainly be made on the basis of reciprocity. »

U.S. Embassy officials said they had brief access to Gershkovich before the trial and were present in court.

“Russian authorities have provided no evidence to support the charges against him, failed to justify his continued detention, and failed to explain why Evan’s work as a journalist constitutes a crime,” indicates the embassy press release after the hearing.

“His case is not about evidence, procedural standards, or the rule of law. It is about the Kremlin using American citizens to achieve its political goals. Russia should stop using individuals like Evan Gershkovich or Paul Whelan as bargaining chips.”

Kremlin spokesman Peskov declined to comment on the trial on Wednesday and echoed Putin’s comments on possible prisoner exchange negotiations.

“No, we cannot talk about any signal at the moment, we can only repeat that this subject loves silence,” he told reporters at a daily press briefing. “We know this topic is highly publicized in the United States, but it is not as high profile in our country. The investigation is ongoing, the trial is ongoing and we have to wait for the verdict.”

In her own statement before Wednesday’s trial, Wall Street Journal editor Emma Tucker described the case as “a travesty of justice that has already gone on for far too long.”

“When his case goes before a judge this week, it will not be a trial as we understand it, with a presumption of innocence and a search for the truth,” she wrote. “This will take place in secret. No evidence has been released. And we already know the conclusion: this false accusation of espionage will inevitably lead to a false conviction of an innocent person who then faces up to 20 years in prison for the simple fact of having done his job. And he was doing a great job, too.

Gershkovich’s next hearing is scheduled for August 13.

News Source : www.washingtonpost.com
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