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American journalist jailed in Russia to be tried behind closed doors


FILE - Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2024.
FILE - Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2024.

Russia will begin holding the espionage trial of American journalist Evan Gershkovich behind closed doors this month, over a year since the reporter was jailed on charges that are widely viewed as baseless.

A court in Yekaterinburg, where Gershkovich was detained in March 2023, announced Monday that the first hearing would be held June 26. The court also said that the trial would be closed to the public.

Yekaterinburg is about 1,400 kilometers, or 870 miles, east of Moscow.

Gershkovich, a Russia correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, has been jailed for nearly 15 months on spying charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny. The U.S. State Department has also declared the 32-year-old wrongfully detained.

Paul Beckett, an assistant editor at the Journal who is leading the newspaper’s campaign to secure Gershkovich’s release, said the news of the looming trial was “very disappointing” but “not unexpected.”

“It’s just grossly unfair to him,” Beckett told CNN on Monday. “He’s an innocent man sitting in a Russian prison facing a charge, which is absurd, for doing his job for The Wall Street Journal.”

The charges against Gershkovich carry a sentence of 20 years in prison. Moscow and Washington have been discussing a possible prisoner exchange over the past several months.

It’s unclear whether U.S. Embassy officials will be permitted to observe the trial, which press freedom experts have said will almost certainly be a sham.

A spokesperson at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow told VOA that embassy officials “will make efforts to attend any future proceedings.”

“We expect Russian authorities to continue to provide consular access to Evan,” the spokesperson said. “We have been clear from the start that Evan has done nothing wrong and never should have been arrested in the first place. Journalism is not a crime.”

Last week, Russian authorities indicted Gershkovich on espionage charges, accusing him of “gathering secret information” about a military facility. To date, Moscow has not provided any evidence to substantiate the charges against Gershkovich, who was accredited by Russia’s Foreign Ministry to work in the country.

The Journal last week restated its calls for Gershkovich’s immediate release.

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge. Russia’s latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous,” Journal publisher Almar Latour and editor-in-chief Emma Tucker said in a statement.

“Evan is a journalist. The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting, and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime. Evan’s case is an assault on free press,” they said in the statement.

Gershkovich is one of two American journalists currently jailed in Russia.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian national who works at VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has been jailed since October 2023 on charges of failing to self-register as a “foreign agent” and spreading what Moscow views as false information about the Russian military.

Kurmasheva and her employer reject the charges, which carry a combined sentence of up to 15 years behind bars. The U.S. government has also called for her immediate release.

Some information for this report came from Reuters.