Russian court dismisses jailed Wall Street Journal reporter’s appeal


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MOSCOW — A Moscow city court on Tuesday dismissed American journalist Evan Gershkovich’s appeal to be released from a high-security jail where he is being held on espionage charges.  

Gershkovich’s defense team had requested that the Wall Street Journal correspondent be transferred to house arrest, another jail or released on bail. 

Although the outcome of the appeal hearing was never really in doubt, it was significant as the first time Gershkovich has been seen in public since he was arrested last month in the Ural mountains’ city of Yekaterinburg. 

Confined to a glass cage, as is customary for defendants facing criminal charges in Russia, Gershkovich seemed tense but composed. Ahead of the hearing he even flashed a couple of smiles at some of those colleagues and attendants he recognized, before the courtroom was emptied and the hearing began. 

Espionage cases in Russia are veiled in secrecy and held behind closed doors.

A handful of journalists were allowed back into the courtroom for the judge’s verdict. Gershkovich, dressed in light jeans and a checkered shirt, looked downcast as he paced back and forth in his glass cage. 

Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, detained Gershkovich on March 29, accusing him of spying “for the American side.” A day later he was transferred to Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison, where he has remained largely in isolation barring a handful of meetings with his lawyers, state prison observers and, on Monday, a visit from the U.S. ambassador after more than two weeks of being denied consular access. 

Speaking outside the courthouse on Tuesday, Ambassador Lynne Tracy told journalists that Gershkovich was “in good health and remains strong despite his circumstances.”

Gershkovich, who faces up to 20 years in jail, is the first foreign journalist to be arrested on espionage charges since the Cold War and his case sends a chilling signal to both Americans in Russia and the country’s foreign press corps. 

Inside the courthouse, a man dressed in civilian clothes covertly filmed journalists who came to cover the case.

‘In fight mode’

Though details are sparse, the Kremlin has repeatedly claimed, without providing evidence, that Gershkovich was “caught red handed.” 

Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, has dismissed the charges as bogus and the White House has classified him as “wrongfully detained,” implying Gershkovich was primarily targeted for being an American citizen. 

Gershkovich’s supporters hope he will eventually be released as part of a prisoner swap with the U.S. But in the past, such deals have only taken place after a conviction, which in the journalist’s case is likely to take months if not years. 

Outside the court, Gershkovich’s lawyer Tatiana Nozhkina said he was “in fight mode,” determined to prove his innocence and the right to free journalism. 

In prison, she said, Gershkovich spent much of his time reading, watching television, including culinary programs, and trying to stay fit with exercise.

She added that Gershkovich, who is the son of Soviet emigrés to the U.S., told his mother jokingly in a letter that the prison’s porridge breakfast reminded him of his youth. 

The next time Gershkovich could appear in court will be in late May, when a judge will have to decide whether to extend the term or his pre-trial detention. 

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