A court in Russia ruled that an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal newspaper should be detained for nearly two months. The reporter was accused of spying for the United States.
It is the most serious move against a foreign reporter since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Russia's FSB security service said Thursday it opened a criminal case against U.S. citizen Evan Gershkovich on suspicion of spying. Russia’s government said he had been "caught red-handed."
Gershkovich was working for the Journal for just over a year. He told the court he was not guilty. The case is believed to be the first criminal case for spying against a foreign journalist in post-Soviet Russia.
Spying under Russian law can be punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
The case will worsen the already poor relations between Russia and the United States. The U.S. is Ukraine's biggest military supporter and has issued sanctions against Russia to try to get it to withdraw its troops.
The FSB accused Gershkovich of gathering secret information about a Russian military factory. It did not name the factory or say where it was. The FSB said it had detained the 31-year-old reporter in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg as he was trying to gather secret information.
The FSB did not provide evidence of his guilt.
"It has been established that E. Gershkovich, acting on an assignment from the American side, was gathering information classified as a state secret …”, the FSB said.
The Wall Street Journal said in a statement that it strongly denies the charges. The newspaper “seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter."
Gershkovich is the most notable American arrested by Russia since basketball star Brittney Griner. She was caught arriving in Moscow with cannabis oil a week before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She was freed in a prisoner exchange 10 months later.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow had no comment about the situation. A U.S. diplomatic source told Reuters that the embassy had not been informed about the arrest and was seeking information from Russian officials.
Gershkovich is expected to be held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, an FSB pre-trial detention center.
Gershkovich, the son of Soviet Jewish immigrants, has reported on Russia since 2017. He joined the Wall Street Journal's Moscow office in January last year. In recent months, he had mainly covered Russian politics and the conflict in Ukraine.
Yaroslav Shirshikov is a political expert in Russia. He told Reuters he was interviewed by Gershkovich two weeks ago and was supposed to meet him again on Thursday.
He said the reporter had asked him about local people's feelings towards the Wagner mercenary group, which is fighting in Ukraine. Gershkovich told him he planned to travel to Nizhny Tagil, a city that is home to a big tank factory. There, Shirshikov said, Gershkovich planned to ask locals about their opinions on the Ukraine conflict.
Shirshikov said Gershkovich had not said anything about wanting information about a military factory and was not "an enemy of Russia."
Russia has tightened censorship laws since the beginning of the invasion. The definition of a state secret, especially concerning military issues, has also been expanded.
Tatiana Stanovaya is founder of a political analysis group. She said Russian law permits “the imprisonment of anyone who is simply interested in military affairs.”
She said it appeared Russia had taken Gershkovich "hostage" for a possible future prisoner exchange.
I’m Gregory Stachel.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by Reuters.
Words in This Story
caught red-handed — idiom. to be caught in the act of a crime
journalist — n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio
sanction — n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not allowing economic aid for that country, etc.
classified — adj. kept secret from all but a few people in the government
dedicated — adj. having very strong support for or loyalty to a person, group, cause, etc.
cannabis — n. a drug that comes from the hemp plant and is smoked illegally
source — n. a person, book, etc., that gives information
interview — n. a meeting at which people talk to each other in order to ask questions and get information
mercenary — n. a soldier who is paid by a foreign country to fight in its army
censorship — n. the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.
analysis — n. a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other