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Russia extends Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich's pretrial detention yet again

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

Moscow — Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich will remain jailed in Russia on espionage charges until at least late June, after a Moscow court on Tuesday rejected his appeal that sought to end his pretrial detention. The 32-year-old U.S. citizen was detained in late March 2023 while on a reporting trip and has spent over a year in jail, with authorities routinely extending his time behind bars and rejecting his appeals.

Last month, his pretrial detention was continued yet again — until June 30 — in a ruling that he and his lawyers later challenged. A Moscow appellate court rejected it Tuesday.

The U.S. State Department declared Gershkovich "wrongfully detained" soon after his arrest, and he is still awaiting a trial on the espionage charges, which the White House, his family and his employer all insist are baseless, but which could still land him with a decades-long prison sentence.

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, stands inside a defendants' cage next to his lawyers after a hearing to consider an appeal on his extended pre-trial detention, at the the first court of appeal in Moscow, April 23, 2024. NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty

In the courtroom on Tuesday, Gerhskovich looked relaxed, at times laughing and chatting with members of his legal team.

His arrest in the city of Yekaterinburg rattled journalists in Russia, where authorities have not detailed what, if any, evidence they have to support the espionage charges.

Analysts have pointed out that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips in soaring U.S.-Russian tensions over the President Vladimir Putin's ongoing war in Ukraine. At least two U.S. citizens arrested in Russia in recent years — including WNBA star Brittney Griner — have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the U.S.

In December, the U.S. State Department said it had made a significant offer to secure the release of Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, another American imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges, which it said Moscow had rejected. Whelan has been jailed in Russia since 2018, and also declared wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.

Paul Whelan, imprisoned in Russia, issues plea to Biden: "He's the man that can bring me home" 02:12

Officials did not describe the offer, although Russia has been said to be seeking the release of Vadim Krasikov, who was given a life sentence in Germany in 2021 for the killing in Berlin of Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

President Biden pledged at the end of March to "continue working every day" to secure Gershkovich's release.

"We will continue to denounce and impose costs for Russia's appalling attempts to use Americans as bargaining chips," Mr. Biden said in a statement that also mentioned Whelan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, asked this year about releasing Gershkovich, appeared to refer to Krasikov by pointing to a man imprisoned by a U.S. ally for "liquidating a bandit" who had allegedly killed Russian soldiers during separatist fighting in Chechnya.

Beyond that hint, Russian officials have kept mum about the talks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeatedly said that while "certain contacts" on swaps continue, "they must be carried out in absolute silence."

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.

Daniloff was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for an employee of the Soviet Union's U.N. mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

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