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Russia Denies Consular Access to American Journalist for Second Time

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage before a hearing to consider an appeal on his arrest at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, April 18, 2023

The U.S. State Department and media analysts have criticized Russia over its refusal to allow regular consular access to a U.S. journalist who has been detained in Moscow since his arrest in late March.

The State Department had sought a meeting this Thursday with Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, but Moscow denied the request, the paper reported.

A State Department spokesperson was cited as saying officials strongly objected to Russia’s failure to comply with its responsibilities under international consular agreements governing access to detained Americans.

“Regardless of the hurdles, our team is focused on ensuring timely consular access to all U.S. nationals detained abroad,” the spokesperson added.

Russia's Washington embassy did not immediately reply to VOA's email requesting comment.

The Journal reported that Moscow’s action is tied to a complaint that Russian journalists didn’t get U.S. visas to travel with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the United Nations in New York in April.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told VOA at that time that Washington had issued nearly 100 visas for Russian nationals, including journalists, for Lavrov’s trip.

“The United States takes seriously its obligations as host country of the UN ... ” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “We reject recent claims by Russian officials that suggest otherwise.”

Since Gershkovich’s arrest March 29, Russia has allowed only one consular visit from a U.S. official, Ambassador Lynne Tracy.

Clayton Weimers, executive director of the U.S. office of Reporters Without Borders, a media watchdog group, said, “Russia’s pretense for detaining Evan is already flimsy.”

“Denying him consular access and blaming it on the failure of Russian journalists to secure American visas really just betrays that Evan has become collateral damage in the Kremlin’s war on media freedom and its ongoing arguments with Washington,” Weimers said in an email to VOA.

Russian authorities detained Gershkovich while he was on assignment for the Journal in the city of Yekaterinburg.

Russia accused the Moscow-based reporter of espionage — a charge that Gershkovich, his employer and the U.S. government deny.

The U.S. government has officially classified Gershkovich as wrongfully detained.

A Russian court ordered the journalist to be held in pretrial detention until May 29, and denied an earlier request that he be moved to house arrest.