Evan Gershkovich is the first reporter for an American news outlet to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since the Cold War
Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg while allegedly trying to obtain classified information.
Russian authorities have arrested a reporter for the Wall Street Journal on espionage charges.
The Federal Security Service (FSB), the top KGB successor agency, said on Thursday that Evan Gershkovich, a US national, was detained in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, suspected of trying to obtain classified information.
It alleged that Gershkovich “was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret”.
Hours later, Gershkovich was formally arrested at a Moscow court pending trial. He will be held in pre-trial detention until May 29.
The FSB did not say when the detention took place.
Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of espionage.
“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB, and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and unbiased reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the paper said in a statement.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, said Gershkovich had lived in Russia for the past six years.
“He was gathering information to do a story about how people felt in [the] Yekaterinburg region about the involvement of the Wagner group in the conflict in Ukraine,” she said.
The Kremlin warned Washington against retaliatory measures targeting Russian media.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Gershkovich had been caught “red-handed”.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that foreign correspondent status, a press visa and accreditation, is used by foreigners in our country to cover up activities that are not journalism. This is not the first well-known Westerner to be caught red handed,” Zakharova said.
Gershkovich’s last report, published this week, focused on the Russian economy’s slowdown amid Western sanctions.
Before joining the WSJ, the 31-year-old worked for AFP in Moscow and was previously a reporter for The Moscow Times.
Gershkovich’s parents live in the United States but are originally from the Soviet Union.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said it was too early to talk of a possible prisoner swap involving Gershkovich, the state RIA news agency reported.
‘Shocked by the horrifying news’
Media freedom groups and journalists, many of whom know Gershkovich personally, raised the alarm and vouched for his innocence.
“Shocked by the horrifying news of Russia’s absurd espionage charges against @evangershkovich, an excellent reporter and friend,” Max Seddon, Moscow bureau chief at the Financial Times, wrote on Twitter.
Francesca Ebel, the Washington’s Post Russia correspondent, said, the allegations against Gershkovich were “absurd”.
“Evan is an excellent thoughtful journalist who cares deeply about his work,” Ebel added on Twitter.
Leonid ХВ Ragozin, a Russian freelance journalist, said: “The Kremlin has taken him hostage.”
Reporters Without Borders expressed serious concern, saying it was alarmed by “what looks like retaliation”.
🔴Arrested in #Russia🇷🇺, the American🇺🇸 reporter Evan Gershkovich is accused of spying by the FSB. The @WSJ ’s correspondent was investigating on the military company Wagner. RSF is alarmed by what looks like retaliation: journalists must not be targeted! pic.twitter.com/urmGFNEdNz
— RSF (@RSF_inter) March 30, 2023