Russia extends arrest of US journalist Evan Gershkovich by 3 months

The Russian court extended by three months the arrest of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich on Tuesday. This hearing was held behind closed doors, a sign of the secrecy surrounding the case of the first American correspondent to be arrested in Russia since the Cold War on spying allegations.

Gershkovich was ordered to be held until August 30. In March, he was arrested on suspicion of espionage while on a reporting mission in Russia. The charges against him, his employer, and the U.S. Government have been denied.

The pre-trial was not announced in advance and the case is shrouded in secrecy.

The Russian authorities have not provided any evidence to back up the espionage allegations.

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The media has been excluded from several legal proceedings. There were no immediate details about the contents of Tuesday’s hearing. Tass, the state news agency, reported that the session had been closed due to the reporter being accused of possessing “secret material.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday night that Gershkovich’s parents were in Moscow visiting their son. They are Soviet emigrants who live in New Jersey.

Ella Milman’s mother was quoted by the newspaper as saying: “I don’t even know what to call this happiness and sadness.” She said Gershkovich appeared relaxed and healthy, and they communicated by smiling.

At least one official from the U.S. Embassy also attended, according to the U.S. State Department.

The arrest of Gershkovich has shocked journalists across the country, and sparked outrage from the West.

The U.S. Government declared Gershkovich wrongfully detained, and demanded that he be released immediately. He is being held at the Lefortovo Prison in Moscow.

The U.S. Embassy allowed Gershkovich to be visited in prison once since his arrest on March 29 in Yekaterinburg, but Russian authorities denied two other requests to see him.

The State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said to reporters in Washington that “we once again call upon Russia to comply with its obligation to provide consular acces to him.” Miller added that the accusations against Gershkovich are “baseless” and “we continue to call for both his immediate release, as well as the immediate release Paul Whelan.”

Whelan is a Michigan corporate security executive serving a 16 year espionage prison sentence in a remote Russian jail. The retired U.S. Marine, who was arrested in 2018, denies spying for Russia. Whelan, Washington and the retired Marine deny that he was spying in Russia.

The Biden administration hoped to secure Whelan’s release as part of negotiations for a prisoner swap that ultimately freed American basketball player Brittney Griner last December from a Russian jail.

Analysts believe that Moscow could be using Americans in jail as bargaining chips to ease the escalating tensions between the United States and Russia over the Kremlin’s military action in Ukraine.

The Wall Street Journal released a statement following the hearing on Tuesday. “While we were expecting that there would not be any change in Evan’s wrongful arrest, we are disappointed.” The accusations are demonstrably untrue, and we demand his immediate freedom.