The United States has called for Russia to immediately release Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich after Moscow sought to extend his pre-trial detention by three months.
Gershkovich’s original pre-trial detention was set to expire on May 29. But a Russian court on Tuesday lengthened that period until August 30 after Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, requested an extension.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday that the U.S. is working hard to bring the U.S. journalist home.
"He shouldn’t be detained at all. Journalism is not a crime. He needs to be released immediately," Kirby told CNN.
Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 while on assignment in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
Russian authorities accused the Moscow-based reporter of espionage, which carries a possible 20-year sentence. Gershkovich, the Journal, and the U.S. government deny the charges.
A CNN reporter tweeted that Gershkovich’s parents, who both fled the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, were present at the hearing at Moscow’s Lefortovo court.
Before Tuesday’s ruling, the U.S. State Department had sought a meeting for Thursday with Gershkovich, but Moscow denied the request, the Journal reported.
Kirby on Tuesday said there were "no grounds for denying consular access."
The Russian embassy did not immediately respond to VOA’s email requesting comment.
Clayton Weimers of the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said, "Russia’s pretense for detaining Evan is already flimsy."
Denying consular access "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 on Monday.