Russia puts Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on trial for espionage

Author: Editors Desk Source: CBC News:
June 26, 2024 at 07:33
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who stands trial on spying charges, is seen inside an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Wednesday. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who stands trial on spying charges, is seen inside an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing in Yekaterinburg, Russia, on Wednesday. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

Gershkovich, who faces up to 20 years in prison on charges U.S. rejects, to return to court Aug. 3

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich went on trial behind closed doors in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, 15 months after his arrest in the Russian city on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny.

The 32-year-old journalist appeared in court in a glass defendant's cage, his head shaved since his last court appearance, while wearing a black-and-blue plaid shirt. Journalists were allowed into the courtroom for a few minutes before the proceedings were closed.

The next hearing for Gershkovich was set for Aug. 13, court officials said.

Jay Conti, executive vice-president and general counsel for Dow Jones, publisher of the Journal, described the trial as a sham in an interview with The Associated Press.

"He was an accredited journalist doing journalism, and this is a sham trial, bogus charges that are completely trumped up," Conti said.


WATCH l Danielle Gershkovich speaks to CBC News in March about the strength of her 'little brother':

Danielle Gershkovich, whose brother Evan remains detained in Russia one year after his arrest, says her family takes inspiration from his continued resilience. 'Whatever we're going through, Evan is going through something so much harder,' she told CBC's Rosemary Barton.

Accused of spying on 'secret' military affairs

The American-born son of immigrants from the USSR, Gershkovich was arrested on March 29, 2023, and is the first Western journalist arrested on espionage charges in post-Soviet Russia.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if the court finds him guilty, which is almost certain. Russian courts convict more than 99 per cent of the defendants who come before them, and prosecutors can appeal sentences that they regard as too lenient, and they even can appeal acquittals.


A man in a blue shirt stands in a glass enclosure. A uniformed man and woman outside the enclosure look on.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is open to the idea of a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, and that contacts with the United States have taken place, but they must remain secret. (Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters)

With Gershkovich's trial being closed, few details of his case may become public. But the Russian Prosecutor General's office repeated an allegation Wednesday from earlier this month that the reporter is accused of "gathering secret information" on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a plant about 150 kilometres north of Yekaterinburg that produces and repairs tanks and other military equipment.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia said Wednesday in a statement that prosecutors still haven't produced any evidence to support the allegations.

"Russian authorities have failed to provide any evidence supporting the charges against him, failed to justify his continued detention and failed to explain why Evan's work as a journalist constitutes a crime," the statement read.

Gershkovich's arrest came about a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed through laws that chilled journalists, criminalizing criticism of what the Kremlin calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine and statements seen as discrediting the military.


Kremlin rejects Trump's claim

Gershkovich's case became an issue in the presidential race when Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee again this year, said in May that he could easily get the journalist freed.

Putin "will do that for me, but not for anyone else," said Trump, who received criticism even from some Republicans during his 2017-2021 term as president for praising the Russian leader and appearing to believe his claims over Washington intelligence agencies.

The Kremlin, however, says it has not been in touch with Trump, and Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Pekov bristled at the attention given to a possible exchange, saying "these contacts must be carried out in total secrecy."

Russia has not ruled out a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich but says that's not possible before a verdict in his case.

U.S. President Joe Biden received some criticism for a prisoner swap two years ago that saw arms dealer Viktor Bout released from a federal prison. In exchange, WNBA star Brittney Griner was freed early on a 9 ½-year sentence for cannabis possession.

Since the Ukraine war began, other American citizens have been detained in Russia.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a reporter with dual American-Russian citizenship for the U.S. government-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe, was arrested for an alleged violation of the law requiring so-called "foreign agents" to register.

Another dual national, Los Angeles resident Ksenia Karelina, is on trial, also in Yekaterinburg, on treason charges for allegedly raising money for a Ukrainian organization that supplied arms and ammunition to Kyiv. 

Paul Whelan, an American corporate security executive who was born in Ottawa, was arrested in Moscow for espionage in 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence.


With files from CBC News

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