Evan Gershkovich’s closed-door trial on espionage charges begins in Russia, with conviction anticipated.

June 26, 2024 by No Comments

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges began Wednesday in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, held behind closed doors.

Gershkovich, 32, was arrested in March 2023 in Yekaterinburg, accused by Russian authorities of gathering classified information for the CIA – allegations he, his employer, and the U.S. government have denied.

“Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge. … The Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime,” Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour and chief editor Emma Tucker stated after the trial date was announced. “We had hoped to avoid this moment and now expect the U.S. government to redouble efforts to get Evan released.”

He is the first known Western journalist to be arrested on espionage charges in post-Soviet Russia.

The journalist appeared in the courtroom Wednesday morning in a glass cage, with his head shaven, according to .

Gershkovich’s appeals seeking his release have thus far been rejected.

“Evan has displayed remarkable resilience and strength in the face of this grim situation,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy said on the anniversary of Gershkovich’s arrest.

If convicted, which is expected, Gershkovich faces . Russian courts convict more than 99% of defendants and prosecutors can appeal sentences that they believe to be light. Prosecutors can even appeal acquittals.

The Russian Prosecutor General’s office said Gershkovich is accused of gathering secret information on orders from the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a plant that produces and repairs military equipment about 90 miles north of Yekaterinburg.

Another American detained in Russia, American corporate security executive Paul Whelan, was arrested in Moscow for espionage in 2018 and is serving a 16-year sentence.

Gershkovich’s arrest came about a year after pushed laws that drew concerns about journalism in the country, criminalizing criticism of the war against Ukraine and statements viewed by officials as discrediting the military. 

Foreign journalists largely left the country after the laws passed. Many gradually moved back in subsequent months, but concerns still remained about whether Russian authorities would take action against them.

Several Western reporters have been forced to leave following Gershkovich’s arrest because Russia would not renew their visas.

Following Gershkovich’s arrest, many feared Russia was targeting Americans amid tensions with the U.S.

Russia has suggested a prisoner exchange for Gershkovich could potentially happen in the future, but such a swap is not possible until a verdict is reached in his case. Putin has floated the idea that he might be interested in freeing Vadim Krasikov, a Russian imprisoned in Germany for the assassination of a Chechen rebel leader.

In 2022, Russia and the U.S. worked out a swap that released WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was serving a 9 1/2-year sentence for cannabis possession in Russia, in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as “the Merchant of Death.”

The Biden administration would likely be sensitive when negotiating a swap for Gershkovich, not wanting to appear to be giving away too much after intense criticism of trading Bout for Griner.