Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges

Russia arrests Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges

Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information.

Russian authorities have arrested a reporter for the Wall Street Journal on espionage charges.

The Federal Security Service (FSB), the top KGB successor agency, said on Thursday that Evan Gershkovich, a US national, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, suspected of trying to obtain classified information.

It alleged that Gershkovich “was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret”.

Hours later, Gershkovich was formally arrested at a Moscow court pending trial. He will be held in pre-trial detention until May 29.

Gershkovich, a Russian speaker who was properly accredited as a journalist, was covering the war in Ukraine, developments in Russia, and the Wagner mercenary group from the WSJ’s Moscow bureau.

The FSB did not say when the detention took place.

Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB, and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and unbiased reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the paper said in a statement.

He is the first reporter for an American news outlet to be detained on spying charges in Russia since the Cold War and his arrest comes amid bitter global tensions over the fighting in Ukraine.

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said Gershkovich had lived in Russia for the past six years.

“He was gathering information to do a story about how people felt in this area of Yekaterinburg region about the involvement of the Wagner group in the conflict in Ukraine,” she said.

Kremlin warnings

The Kremlin warned Washington against retaliatory measures targeting Russian media, with government spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters: “We are hoping that it will not happen and it must not happen.”

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the American journalist had been caught “red-handed”.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that foreign correspondent status, a press visa and accreditation, is used by foreigners in our country to cover up activities that are not journalism. This is not the first well-known Westerner to be caught red handed,” Zakharova said.

Gershkovich’s last report, published this week, focused on the Russian economy’s slowdown amid Western sanctions.

Before joining the WSJ, the 31-year-old worked for AFP in Moscow and was previously a reporter for The Moscow Times.

Gershkovich’s parents live in the United States but are originally from the Soviet Union.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of a possible prisoner swap involving detained Gershkovich, the state RIA news agency reported.

The Interfax news agency cited Ryabkov as saying that such exchanges had previously taken place for those already convicted, and that it was necessary to wait to see how the story with Gershkovich developed.

‘Shocked by the horrifying news’

Media freedom groups and journalists, many of whom know Gershkovich personally, raised the alarm and vouched for his innocence.

“Shocked by the horrifying news of Russia’s absurd espionage charges against @evangershkovich, an excellent reporter and friend,” Max Seddon, Moscow bureau chief at the Financial Times, wrote on Twitter.

Francesca Ebel, the Washington’s Post Russia correspondent, said, the allegations against Gershkovich were “absurd”.

“Evan is an excellent thoughtful journalist who cares deeply about his work,” Ebel added on Twitter.

Leonid ХВ Ragozin, a Russian freelance journalist, said: “The Kremlin has taken him hostage.”

Reporters Without Borders expressed serious concern, saying it was alarmed by “what looks like retaliation”.

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