Russia charges Wall Street Journal reporter with espionage

FILE - The Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich is shown in this undated photo. The U.S. Senate's top two leaders, in a rare bipartisan statement, demanded on Friday that Russia immediately release Evan Gershkovich, condemning the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter and declaring that “journalism is not a crime.” (The Wall Street Journal via AP, File)
American reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities last week. Credit: AP

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been charged with espionage after he was arrested by Russian authorities last week.

He was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg on March 29, accused of spying for the United States, and was formally charged today, according to two Russian news agencies.

Gershkovich, 31, has "categorically denied all accusations and stated that he was engaged in journalistic activities in Russia", according to the Tass agency.

It quotes a law enforcement official as saying the FSB - the successor of the Soviet-era KGB, has charged Gershkovich with espionage in the interests of his country.

Gershkovich being escorted by police from court in Moscow on March 30. Credit: AP

The source declined further comment because the case is considered secret, although the FSB previously accused the reporter of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be detained on spying accusations since the Cold War, and if convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

The case has caused an international uproar, prompting a rare bipartisan statement from the US Senate's top two leaders, demanding the reporter's immediate release. Democratic Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, and Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell declared that “journalism is not a crime”, praising Gershkovich as an “internationally known and respected independent journalist”.

Yesterday Lynne T. Tracy, US ambassador to Russia met with a top Russian diplomat to discuss the case.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stressed “the serious nature of the charges” against Gershkovich, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement. The statement repeated earlier Russian claims that the reporter “was caught red-handed while trying to obtain secret information, using his journalistic status as a cover for illegal actions". Lawyers representing Gershkovich met with him Tuesday for the first time since his detention, according to Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Emma Tucker. Tucker said the reporter is in good health and “is grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world. We continue to call for his immediate release".

Gershkovich was ordered held behind bars for two months in Russia pending an investigation.

A Moscow court said Monday that it had received a defense appeal of his arrest; the appeal is scheduled to be heard on April 18, Russian news agencies reported.

Gershkovich's charges come at a moment of bitter tensions between the West and Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, and as the Kremlin intensifies a crackdown on opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society groups. Activists have warned that the very profession of journalism in Russia is criminalised, along with the activities of ordinary Russians who oppose the war. Last week a Russian court convicted a father over social media posts critical of the war, sentencing him to two years in prison.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…