Russian espionage trial of US reporter Gershkovich to be closed to public

Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be detained on spy charges in Russia since the Cold War over three decades ago, denies the charges.
Last Updated : 17 June 2024, 07:16 IST

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Moscow: Russia will hold the espionage trial of detained US reporter Evan Gershkovich, who denies charges of collecting secrets for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), behind closed doors later this month, a court in the city of Yekaterinburg said on Monday.

Gershkovich, 32, was detained by the Federal Security Service on March 29, 2023, in a steak house in Yekaterinburg on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison.

Gershkovich, the first American journalist to be detained on spy charges in Russia since the Cold War over three decades ago, denies the charges.

The FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said that Gershkovich was trying to collect secrets about Uralvagonzavod, a powerful Russian defence enterprise which is one of the world's biggest battle tank producers.

"According to the investigation authorities, the American journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA, in March 2023, collected secret information in the Sverdlovsk region about the activities of the defence enterprise JSC NPK Uralvagonzavod for the production and repair of military equipment," the Sverdlovsk Regional Court said.

"The process will take place behind closed doors." The first hearing is scheduled for June 26, the court said.

His arrest shocked many Western news organisations and there are now almost no US reporters in Russia, which is ranked by the State Department as a hardship posting on par with Freetown, Mogadishu, Damascus and Kabul.

Russia has said Gershkovich was caught "red-handed".

President Vladimir Putin has said there has been contact with Washington about potentially swapping Gershkovich but that such negotiations should be held away from the media.

The White House has called the charges "ridiculous", and President Joe Biden has said Gershkovich's detention is "totally illegal".

The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones say that Gershkovich was simply doing his job in Russia and deny the espionage charges. The Journal and Dow have repeatedly demanded that Russia release him, thus far to no avail.

Uralvagonzavod, based in Nizhny Tagil, sits at the heart of the Urals region, where Russia conducts some of its most secret weapon production and research. It is part of Rostec, Russia's vast defence corporation run by Putin ally Sergei Chemezov.

A fluent Russian-speaker born to Soviet émigrés and raised in New Jersey, Gershkovich moved to Moscow in late 2017 to join the English-language Moscow Times, and subsequently worked for the French news agency Agence France-Presse.

Gershkovich has appealed against his detention several times, appearing in the glass cages used for suspects in Russian courts. All of the appeals have been rejected.

Published 17 June 2024, 07:16 IST

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