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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Russia detains Wall Street Journal reporter, accusing him of spying

The Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in a photograph dated July 2021. The Journal called him a “trusted and dedicated reporter.”

By Daniel Victor and Michael M. Grynbaum

Russian authorities said Thursday that they had detained an American journalist for The Wall Street Journal and accused him of espionage, marking a new escalation in Moscow’s tensions with the United States and with foreign media organizations since its invasion of Ukraine.

The journalist, Evan Gershkovich, a correspondent based in Moscow, is believed to be the first American reporter to be held as an accused spy in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. His detention comes as relations between Russia and the United States continue to deteriorate, with Washington leading a coalition of nations supporting Ukraine’s military defense and pushing for Moscow’s further diplomatic and economic isolation.

The Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, said in a statement that Gershkovich “is suspected of spying in the interests of the American government” and had been detained in Yekaterinburg, a city about 900 miles east of Moscow in the Ural Mountains. Hours later, the Kremlin endorsed Gershkovich’s arrest.

“We’re not talking about suspicions,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, said, adding, “He was caught red-handed.” Peskov said he could not provide further details.

The detention is an ominous sign for the rights of foreign journalists based in Russia. The Journal strongly rejected the accusations against Gershkovich and said it would seek his immediate release. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the newspaper said in a statement.

President Joe Biden was briefed on Gershkovich’s detention and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said he was “deeply concerned.” State Department officials had contacted Russian authorities to secure access to the reporter and check on his welfare.

“The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “We condemn the detention of Gershkovich in the strongest terms. We also condemn the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.”

Gershkovich, 31, grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, as a child of Soviet émigrés. He has worked for the Journal in Moscow since January 2022; previously, he reported in Russia for Agence France-Presse and for The Moscow Times. Before that, he was a New York-based news assistant for The New York Times.

No Western journalist has been tried on espionage charges in Russia in recent years. But in March 2022, many foreign news organizations, including the Times, temporarily removed their reporters from the country after harsh new laws virtually outlawed some forms of independent reporting after the invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, correspondents — including Gershkovich — continued to receive accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry and had generally been able to operate freely.

But American journalists, in particular, have been concerned about a situation like the one now unfolding with Gershkovich: that Russian authorities might detain a correspondent from a U.S.-based organization amid the larger tensions between the two countries. In some past espionage cases, Russia has detained foreigners to instigate prisoner exchanges with the West.

“Until today, there was a hope among foreign correspondents working in Russia that these crackdowns on independent reporting would not extend to them,” said Gulnoza Said, a coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors press freedoms abroad. “But with these very serious charges, it is clear that any foreign correspondent could be a victim.”

“The situation was frozen,” she added, “and now it got worse. Everybody working in Russia knew it may happen, but everyone was hoping it would not.”

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison under Russia’s criminal code. Espionage trials in the country can take months and are typically conducted in secret. Acquittals are virtually unheard-of.

Photos and video appeared to show Gershkovich exiting a court building in Moscow on Thursday afternoon with a jacket hood over his head. He pleaded not guilty to espionage charges, Russian state news agency Tass reported.

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Rose Rose
Rose Rose
01 de abr. de 2023

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