by Associated Press
Russian security officials have arrested an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal on suspicion of spying. The newspaper denied the charges and asked for his release.
Evan Gerszkovic, 31, was detained in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city, about 1,670 kilometers (1,035 miles) east of Moscow. Russia’s Federal Security Service accused him of trying to obtain classified information.
Known by the acronym FSB, the service is the country’s premier security agency and the primary successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Gerszkovic alleged that he was “acting on instructions from the American side to gather information on the activities of one of the Russian military-industrial complex corporations that constitutes a state secret.”
The journal “strongly denies the allegations made by the FSB and calls for the immediate release of credible and dedicated reporter Evan Gershkovic,” the paper said. “We are in solidarity with Evan and his family.”
The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions between the West and Moscow over the war in Ukraine, as the Kremlin ramps up its crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups.
A sweeping campaign of repression has been unprecedented since Soviet times. Activists say it often means that the profession of journalism itself is criminalized, along with the work of ordinary Russians to oppose the war.
Earlier this week, a Russian court found a father guilty and sentenced him to two years in prison for posting social media posts critical of the war.
Gerskovic is the first American journalist to be arrested in Russia on espionage charges since US News and World Report’s Moscow correspondent Nicholas Danilov was arrested by the KGB in September 1986. Danilov was released without charge 20 days later in exchange for a Soviet UN mission officer who had also arrested him on espionage charges by the FBI.
At a hearing on Thursday, a Moscow court quickly ruled that Gerszkovic should be kept in prison pending an investigation.
Previous American detainees were released in prisoner exchanges, but senior Russian officials said it was too early to talk about such deals.
In Washington, he said the Biden administration had spoken to the Journal and Gerszkovic’s family. White House Press Secretary Carine Jean-Pierre condemned the arrests “in the strongest terms” and urged Americans to heed government warnings not to travel to Russia.
Jean-Pierre said the State Department was in direct contact with the Russian government and sought access to Gerszkovic. The administration has no “concrete indications” that Russian journalists are being targeted, she said.
Gerszkovic, who covers Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries as the WSJ’s Moscow bureau correspondent, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage. A high-profile lawyer says the investigation into past espionage cases could take him a year to 18 months, during which he may have had little contact with the outside world.
The FSB noted that Gershkovich had certification from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to work as a journalist, but Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Gershkovich considered his credentials “having nothing to do with journalism.” It claimed that it was used as a cover for “no activities”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “This is not about the suspicion, but about the fact that he was arrested red-handed.”
Gerszkovic speaks fluent Russian and previously worked for the French news agency Agence France-Presse and The New York Times. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 2014, majoring in philosophy in defense of press freedom, according to university president Clayton Rose.
His final report from Moscow, released earlier this week, focused on a slowdown in the Russian economy amid Western sanctions imposed after Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year.
Ivan Pavlov, a prominent Russian defense attorney who has worked on many espionage and treason cases, said Gerszkovic’s case was the first of many espionage crimes against foreign journalists in post-Soviet Russia. He said it was the first indictment.
“The unwritten rule of not touching accredited foreign journalists has stopped working,” said Pavlov, a member of the First Division’s legal aid group.
Pavlov said the case against Gershkovic was created to give Russia a “trump card” for future prisoner exchanges and could be resolved “by political and diplomatic means, not by law.” said to be high.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has denied a quick swap.
“People who were exchanged earlier had already completed their sentences, so I don’t even consider the issue now,” Ryabkov said, according to the Russian news agency.
In December, WNBA star Britney Greiner was released after serving 10 months in prison in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Another American, Michigan corporate security officer Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the US government say are unfounded.
“I am sorry to hear that our family has to go through the same trauma that another American family has had to endure for the past 1,553 days. It sounds just like the case.”
Jeanne Cabrier of press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said the arrest of Gerszkovic “looks like Russia’s retaliation against the United States.”
Cavelier, head of the Paris-based group’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said, “It’s very likely because it’s a way of intimidating all Western journalists trying to investigate aspects of the war on the ground in Russia.” I am wary of
Yevgeny Smirnov, another prominent lawyer in the First Division group, said that people arrested for espionage and treason are usually held in the FSB’s Lefortovo prison, where they are allowed access to phones, visitors and even newspapers. At best, they will be able to receive letters, but they are often weeks late. Smirnov called these states “instruments of repression.”
Both Smirnov and Pavlov said any trial would be held behind closed doors. According to Pavlov, Russia has not been acquitted of treason and espionage charges since 1999.
https://www.mcall.com/2023/03/30/russia-arrests-wall-street-journal-reporter-on-spying-charge/ Russia Arrests Wall Street Journal Reporter on Espionage Charges – The Morning Call