Who is Evan Gershkovich, the US reporter imprisoned in Russia?

·3-min read
Evan Gershkovich is an experienced Russia reporter (Evan Gershkovich)
Evan Gershkovich is an experienced Russia reporter (Evan Gershkovich)

A Wall Street Journal reporter held in a former KGB prison in Russia on espionage charges has had his appeal against pre-trial detention rejected by a Russian court.

Evan Gershkovich appeared in court in Moscow on Tuesday, the first time he had been seen in public for weeks.

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He was arrested at a restaurant on March 30 by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), which said it had opened a case against him for collecting what it said were state secrets about a military industrial complex.

Mr Gershkovich appeared in bullet-proof glass enclosure and did not say anything to the reporters present.

The court rejected his legal team’s offer to free him on bail of 50 million roubles ($614,000) or put him under house arrest.

The reporter has been ordered to be held at least until May 29 on espionage charges.

Mr Gershkovich – the first US journalist to be detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War – has denied he was involved in espionage, as have Washington and the WSJ.

Here’s what you need to know about Evan Gershkovich.

Who is Evan Gershkovich?

Evan Gershkovich, 31, is an experienced reporter on Russian issues, who was working in the city of Yekaterinburg at the time of his detention. He is well known among foreign correspondents in Moscow. BBC Russia editor Steve Rosenberg described him as an excellent reporter and a highly principled journalist.

On Thursday (March 30), he appeared at the Lefortovo courthouse in Moscow for a brief hearing at which the charges were officially presented. The Kremlin claimed he had been caught “red-handed” but the Wall Street Journal vehemently denied the allegations against him.

The FSB, which is the successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB, alleged that Mr Gershkovich “was acting on the US orders to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military industrial complex that constitutes a state secret”.

The court ordered him to be held in pre-trial detention until at least 29 May, local media reported.

Mr Gershkovich speaks fluent Russian and previously worked for the French agency Agence France-Presse and the New York Times. He covers Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations as a correspondent in the WSJ’s Moscow bureau. In his most recent WSJ piece, published on March 28, he reported on Russia’s declining economy and how the Kremlin was having to deal with “ballooning military expenditures” while maintaining social spending.

What has the response been to Evan Gershkovich’s arrest?

Friends and colleagues of Mr Gershkovich called the allegations absurd, describing him as a professional and the allegations against him as “ridiculous”.

Tthe Wall Street Journal said it stood in solidarity with the reporter and his family: “The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich.”

The White House has condemned his detention “in the strongest terms”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the Wall Street Journal in saying he was “deeply concerned” by the arrest.

But even before the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, reporting from Russia had become more difficult, with independent journalists labelled “foreign agents”.

Jeanne Cavelier, head of the eastern Europe and central Asia desk at the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders, said Mr Gershkovich is the first foreign journalist to be arrested in Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.

“It looks like a retaliation measure of Russia against the United States, so we are very alarmed because it is probably a way to intimidate all western journalists that are trying to investigate aspects of the war on the ground in Russia,” she told the Associated Press.

“The western powers should immediately ask for clarifications on the charges because, as far as we know, he was just doing his job as a journalist.”