Jailed American journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared in a Moscow court on Tuesday to appeal his detention on spying charges, part of a sweeping Kremlin crackdown on dissent amid the war in Ukraine. He and the U.S. government strenuously deny the allegations.
Journalists and supporters at the courthouse caught their first glimpse in weeks of the Wall Street Journal reporter, who is the first U.S. correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia for alleged spying.
Russia’s Federal Security Service detained the 31-year-old in Yekaterinburg on March 29 and accused him of trying to obtain classified information about a Russian arms factory.
Gershkovich, his employer and the U. S. government all deny he was involved in spying and have demanded his release.
The Moscow City Court is set to consider a defense appeal of his detention on Tuesday.
Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Russian lawyers have said past investigations into espionage cases took a year to 18 months, during which time he could have little contact with the outside world.
He has been held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, which dates from the czarist era and has been a terrifying symbol of repression since Soviet times.
The U.S. has pressed Moscow to grant consular access to Gershkovich. On Monday, U.S. Ambassador Lynne Tracy said she visited Gershkovich in prison for the first time since his detention. Tracy said on Twitter that “he is in good health and remains strong,” reiterating a U.S. call for his immediate release.
President Joe Biden spoke to Greshkovich’s parents last week and again condemned his detention.
“We’re making it real clear that it’s totally illegal what’s happening, and we declared it so,” he said.
Last week, the U.S. government declared Gershkovich as “ wrongfully detained,” a designation that means that a particular State Department office takes the lead on seeking his release.
In December, American basketball star Brittney Griner was exchanged for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout following her trial and conviction on drug possession charges. She had been sentenced to nine years in prison and ended up spending 10 months behind bars.
Another American, Michigan corporate security executive Paul Whelan, has been imprisoned in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges, which his family and the U.S. government have called baseless.
During the Griner case, the Kremlin repeatedly urged the United States to use a “special channel” between the countries’ security agencies to work on a potential prisoner swap, saying such private communications were the only appropriate means for a resolution.