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Russia says U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich to stand trial on espionage charges

Friend of Evan Gershkovich on release effort
Friend of Evan Gershkovich discusses effort to get him home 04:34

Moscow — U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been jailed for over a year in Russia on espionage charges, will stand trial in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg, authorities said Thursday. An indictment of the Wall Street Journal reporter has been finalized and his case was filed to the Sverdlovsky Regional Court in the city about 870 miles east of Moscow, according to Russia's Prosecutor General's office.

Gershkovich is accused of "gathering secret information" for the CIA about Uralvagonzavod, a facility in the Sverdlovsk region that produces and repairs military equipment, the Prosecutor General's office said in a statement, revealing for the first time the details of the accusations against him.

The officials didn't provide any evidence to back up the accusations. 

The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, called the charge "false and baseless" and repeated their call for Gershkovich to be released.

Wall Street Journal marks 1 year since Evan Gershkovich's detention in Russia 05:01

There was no word on when the trial would begin.

Roger Carstens, the top hostage negotiator for the U.S., said the charge was "not unexpected." He told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday the U.S. government was "hopeful" it would be able to "broker a deal with the Russians before this happened, but it doesn't stop or slow us down." 

Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg in March 2023 and accused of spying for the United States. The reporter, his employer and the U.S. government denied the allegations, and Washington designated him as wrongfully detained.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB, alleged at the time he was acting on U.S. orders to collect state secrets but also provided no evidence.

In a statement Thursday, Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour and Wall Street Journal editor in chief Emma Tucker said:

"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. Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job. 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.

We continue to demand his immediate release. We had hoped to avoid this moment and now expect the US government to redouble efforts to get Evan released."

President Vladimir Putin has said he believed a deal could be reached to free Gershkovich, hinting he would be open to swapping him for a Russian national imprisoned in Germany, which appeared to be Vadim Krasikov. He was serving a life sentence for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

Asked last week by The Associated Press about Gershkovich, Putin said the U.S. is "taking energetic steps" to secure his release. He said any such releases "aren't decided via mass media" but through a "discreet, calm and professional approach."

"And they certainly should be decided only on the basis of reciprocity," he added in an allusion to a potential prisoner swap.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. 

Moscow court hears appeal by WSJ reporter Gershkovich
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested while on a reporting trip and accused of espionage, stands behind a glass wall of an enclosure for defendants before a court hearing in Moscow on June 22, 2023. EVGENIA NOVOZHENINA/REUTERS

He was the first U.S. journalist taken into custody on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986 at the height of the Cold War. Gershkovich's arrest shocked foreign journalists in Russia, even though the country had enacted increasingly repressive laws on freedom of speech after sending troops into Ukraine.

The son of Soviet emigres who settled in New Jersey, Gershkovich was fluent in Russian and moved to the country in 2017 to work for The Moscow Times newspaper before being hired by the Journal in 2022.

His sister Danielle told CBS News' Lesley Stahl in March that the siblings have always been close. She said she was shattered when she learned he had been taken into custody in Russia.

"I got a call from my mom," she told CBS News. "It's just, my stomach fell out, you know? Your heart stops. It's so hard to believe that something like that is actually real. And I remember my mom and I discussing the morning after: 'Is that really Evan, that photo that came out?' We didn't want to admit for a moment that that was him."

Stahl asked, "Did you think [detention] was a possibility? Russia a year ago had already become dangerous. Other news organizations were pulling reporters out."

"I would say my whole family was nervous," she replied, but added that her brother would always remind his family that he was an accredited journalist in Russia — and, therefore, supposedly safe. 

"It's very unprecedented," Danielle said of her brother's arrest.

But what was unprecedented has become almost routine under Putin. Marine veteran Paul Whelan has been jailed in Russia for five years; Russian-American ballerina Ksenia Karelina was arrested in January, accused of treason for helping Ukraine; and basketball star Brittney Griner, imprisoned for nine months on drug charges, was finally freed in an exchange for a notorious arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death."

Since his arrest, Gershkovich has been held at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, a notorious czarist-era prison used during Josef Stalin's purges, when executions were carried out in its basement.

The Biden administration has sought to negotiate his release, but Russia's Foreign Ministry said it would consider a prisoner swap only after a verdict in his trial.

U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy, who regularly visited Gershkovich in prison and attended his court hearings, has called the charges against him "fiction" and said Russia is "using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends."

Since sending troops to Ukraine, Russian authorities have detained several U.S. nationals and other Westerners, seemingly bolstering that idea.

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