Russian Judge Agrees to Extend Evan Gershkovich’s Detention for Three Months
MOSCOW — Meeting behind closed doors, a Moscow court on Tuesday extended the arrest of Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent accused of espionage, for more than three months, until Aug. 30.
The refusal of bail and the extension of Mr. Gershkovich’s detention were widely expected, although Russia has presented no evidence to back the espionage accusation. The United States government and The Wall Street Journal have vehemently rejected the charges, saying that “reporting is not a crime.”
Mr. Gershkovich’s parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, waited for more than an hour outside the courtroom before being allowed into the hearing. It was their first sighting of their son since his arrest on March 29.
Afterward, they were whisked away in the company of one of Mr. Gershkovich’s lawyers. They did not comment on what they had seen. Ms. Milman wore a “Free Evan” button. Before going into the hearing, Mr. Gershkovich’s father said, “We hope he is doing great and that he can be as strong as his mother.”
Mr. Gershkovich, 31, has been held at the Lefortovo jail since he was detained on March 29 during a reporting trip to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. If convicted, Mr. Gershkovich would face up to 20 years in a Russian penal colony.
A prisoner exchange, such as the one that secured the release of Brittney Griner, an American basketball star, late last year, would not take place until after a verdict is reached in the case, Russian officials have said. Ms. Griner was held for almost 10 months on a cannabis possession charge. However, the Biden administration is known to be working to secure an early release for Mr. Gershkovich.
The United States government, The Wall Street Journal, numerous colleagues, groups supporting press freedom and prominent international officials have all condemned Mr. Gershkovich’s detention and called the accusations made against him utterly baseless.
The Journal said in a statement following the hearing that though “we expected there would be no change to Evan’s wrongful detention, we are deeply disappointed.”
“The accusations are demonstrably false, and we continue to demand his immediate release,” it said.
A handful of journalists were allowed into the courthouse but not the courtroom itself. Mr. Gershkovich was hidden from view on entering and exiting, before being driven back to Lefortovo jail in a white van with blackened windows.
American diplomats had said it was almost certain that Mr. Gershkovich’s detention would be extended at the hearing and his application for bail denied. Even at the best of times, a pretrial investigation of an espionage case normally takes months, and a year may elapse before a verdict is reached.
Russian-American relations are in a state of acute tension over the war in Ukraine, a conflict that is still officially referred to in Russia as a “special military operation,” and President Vladimir V. Putin has embarked on a drive to suppress independent news outlets and free speech in general.
In Russia, the word “war” has come to be used increasingly, but not to describe the invasion of Ukraine ordered by Mr. Putin early last year. Rather, it is used to characterize a broad confrontation with the West — the United States, NATO and the European Union — from which there is, in the prevailing Russian view, no turning back.
“Russia has entered a phase of the most acute confrontation with the collective West,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said last week.
Dmitri. A. Medvedev, the former Russian president who has become increasingly outspoken in his nationalist outbursts, said on Tuesday that “the more destructive are the weapons supplied to Kyiv, the more likely the scenario of a nuclear apocalypse.”
Before the arrest of Mr. Gershkovich, Russia had not charged a Western journalist with espionage since the Cold War. At a hearing in a Moscow courtroom on April 18, journalists were allowed to enter and saw Mr. Gershkovich standing in a glass cage, red handcuff marks visible on his wrist. He flashed a smile and, through his lawyer, declared his determination to defend his right to work freely as an accredited journalist.
Lefortovo jail is infamous for the near-isolation and often harsh conditions imposed on its inmates. Mr. Gershkovich has been generally isolated, the diplomats said, but his lawyers have been allowed to see him regularly.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy, was allowed to visit Mr. Gershkovich on April 17, under intense Russian scrutiny. The Russian authorities have denied two requests for consular access since.
Russia has linked this refusal to the denial of American visas last month to Russian journalists who wished to accompany Mr. Lavrov, the foreign minister, to New York.
The refusal of consular access appears to go against both a bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Two American consular officials were, after a long wait, allowed into the courtroom at the same time as Mr. Gershkovich’s parents on Tuesday. Like his parents, they left without comment.
Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, has said that Mr. Gershkovich was caught “red-handed,” but has not elaborated. Russia has not offered any evidence to support the accusation of espionage against a journalist, the son of Soviet émigrés, whose work reflected a deep knowledge of the country.
The case, a shock to all accredited foreign correspondents in Moscow, most of whom have now left, has contributed to the sharp deterioration in relations between Russia and the United States. Mr. Putin’s regime had been hardening its repressive rule for many years, largely eliminating political alternatives and cultivating a climate of fear. It has accelerated that process under the pressure of the conflict in Ukraine.
Mr. Putin has not hesitated to smother criticism of the war by making it punishable with long prison sentences. His clampdown has prompted an exodus of the war’s critics and of many Russians uneasy over, or appalled by, their country’s direction.
Earlier this year a Moscow court sentenced Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Kremlin critic and Washington Post contributor, to 25 years in prison, one of a series of such severe verdicts that have clarified how dangerous it may be in Russia today to speak one’s mind.
Matt Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters in Washington on Tuesday that the American government did not arrange travel for Mr. Gershkovich’s parents to attend his hearing. He added that while he could only imagine their pain and their desire to see their son, the United States advises all Americans to avoid traveling to Russia.
The Biden administration has asserted that Mr. Gershkovich is “wrongfully detained” — an official determination that effectively says the United States views him as a political hostage and opens the way for a wide range of steps to secure his release. The White House has called for him to be freed immediately.
The hearing took place in a Moscow almost surreal in its purring affluence, where multiplying billboards appealing for recruits to join the Russian armed forces are almost the only sign of the war being fought in Ukraine. The conflict has, by American estimates, left more than 200,000 Russians dead or wounded.
Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.
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