As of: 03/30/2023 6:48 p.m
Evan Gershkovich has been the Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal since last year. Russia’s accusation of espionage against the US journalist could mean up to 20 years in prison for him.
In September 1986, a US correspondent for “US News and World Report” was arrested by the KGB in Moscow on suspicion of espionage – and 20 days later exchanged for a Soviet citizen imprisoned in the USA.
37 years passed until the next case – as far as officially known. The KGB successor FSB arrested Evan Gershkovich in the city of Yekaterinburg in the Urals. He has been the Moscow correspondent for the Wall Street Journal since February last year.
“Caught in action”
“The foreign citizen was detained in Yekaterinburg while trying to obtain classified information,” the press department of the internal intelligence service reported. It is about espionage in the interests of the American government.
Shortly thereafter, Dmitri Peskov, spokesman for the Russian President, said: “There was already a statement from the FSB. The only thing I can add is that, as far as we know, he was caught in the act.”
Other official comments sounded as if the presumption of innocence had been abolished or suspended in Russia. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, said: “In this case, we are talking about him being involved in completely different activities under the guise of journalistic activities, a journalist visa and accreditation.”
The 31-year-old Wall Street Journal correspondent is said to have researched in and around Yekaterinburg, among other things, how the population felt about the Wagner Group’s recruitment efforts. The Wagner Group is a non-state military company owned by Putin confidante Yevgeny Prigozhin and is currently fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine.
Officially, the Russian secret service said the journalist had “gathered information about the activities of one of the companies of the Russian military-industrial complex”.
The reporter faces up to 20 years in prison
The media laws, which have been tightened since the beginning of the war, make reporting on military issues and military companies considerably more difficult. But because under paragraph 276 of the penal code is being investigated – for espionage – Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison.
The correspondent was brought before the Moscow District Court in Lefortovo in closed session in the afternoon. According to the Tass news agency, he pleaded “not guilty” – the court nevertheless ordered a two-month pre-trial detention, which can also be extended after May 29.
The “Wall Street Journal” commented on the news of the arrest of its own correspondent with great concern and called for his release. The organization “Reporters Without Borders” demanded: “Journalists must not become targets!”