A Russian court on Tuesday refused to release U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich from jail while he awaits trial on accusations that he spied on Russia while on a reporting assignment last month.
The 31-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, wearing jeans and a blue-and-white checkered shirt, stood inside a glass and metal enclosure at Moscow City court. He had asked that he be detained under house arrest while awaiting trial.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, who visited Gershkovich on Monday, was present in the courtroom.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier Tuesday that Gershkovich was “in good health and good spirits, considering the circumstances” after his arrest in Russia late last month.
Speaking to reporters in Japan, Blinken said the United States continues to “call for his immediate release from this unjust detention.”
Gershkovich was arrested in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg, 1,800 kilometers east of Moscow, while on a reporting assignment. Russia claims, without producing evidence, that he was caught “red-handed” while spying, collecting what it claimed were state secrets about a military industrial complex.
His newspaper and the U.S. government have rejected the charge of espionage, which, if he were to be convicted, carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Two weeks ago, his parents, Ella Milman and Mikhail Gershkovich, who fled the Soviet Union in 1979 and live in the eastern U.S. city of Philadelphia, received a two-page, hand-written note from him in Russian, the language the family speaks at home.
“I want to say that I am not losing hope,” Gershkovich said. “I read. I exercise. And I am trying to write.”
He also teased his mother about her cooking. “Mom, you unfortunately, for better or worse, prepared me well for jail food,” he said. “For breakfast they give us hot creamed wheat, oatmeal cereal or wheat gruel. I am remembering my childhood.”
The parents said in a video interview with the Journal that they remain optimistic for their son’s release.
“It’s one of the American qualities that we absorbed, you know, be optimistic, believe in a happy ending,” Milman said. “But I am not stupid. I understand what’s involved.”
Milman said her son “felt like it was his duty to report” in Russia, even after most Western journalists left the country when President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine last year. “He loves Russian people,” she said of her son.
U.S. President Joe Biden has called the journalist’s detention “totally illegal” and told the family he was working for Gershkovich’s release. The United States has officially declared that Gershkovich has been “wrongfully detained” and that he is being held as a hostage.
The U.S. has repeatedly told its citizens to leave Russia due to risk of arbitrary arrest.
Some information for this report came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.