A Moscow court on Thursday extended by three months the pre-trial detention of jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich. He will now stay behind bars on espionage charges until at least the end of November, Russian state news agency Tass reported.
The Wall Street Journal reporter was detained at the end of March while on assignment in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
Moscow has accused him of spying, which he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny. The State Department has classified him as wrongfully detained.
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be detained in Russia on espionage charges since the Cold War.
Gershkovich, 31, arrived at the Moscow court Thursday in a white prison van and was led out handcuffed. He appeared in court to hear the result of the prosecution’s motion to extend his arrest from Aug. 30.
This is the second time his pre-trial detention has been extended, both times by three months. Gershkovich's initial pre-trial detention was set to expire on May 29.
Reporters were not allowed to witness Thursday’s proceedings in the court. Tass said it took place behind closed doors due to the classified nature of some details in the case.
In response to the extension, a State Department spokesperson told VOA, “The claims against Evan Gershkovich are baseless. Once again, we call for Russia to immediately release Evan and also to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan. Our efforts to secure their release are ongoing.”
Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, is also detained in Russia on espionage charges that are viewed as baseless.
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal said in a statement, “Today, our colleague and distinguished journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared for a pre-trial hearing where his improper detention was extended yet again. We are deeply disappointed he continues to be arbitrarily and wrongfully detained for doing his job as a journalist. The baseless accusations against him are categorically false, and we continue to push for his immediate release. Journalism is not a crime.”
“Today’s news was expected but nevertheless deeply disappointing,” said Emma Tucker, the paper’s editor-in-chief, and Almar Latour, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Journal, in a joint statement. “It’s also a reminder of the fight we’re in as Evan has now been wrongfully detained for five months — a horrific and sobering milestone in our efforts to free him.”
The National Press Club in Washington also condemned the extension.
“Our anger over Evan Gershkovich’s unjust detention has been heightened over the Russian court’s decision, yet again, to extend his period of pretrial detention,” said Eileen O’Reilly, National Press Club president, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, in a statement.
“If Russia actually had a case against Evan — as they stated in March saying he had been caught ‘red handed’ — the pretrial period would have quickly been over. Obviously, this has not been the case.”
Gershkovich’s lawyers will appeal the extension, the Journal said.
Nike Ching contributed to this report.