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American reporter accused of spying in Russia has detention extended

American reporter accused of spying in Russia has detention extended

A court in Moscow has extended the pretrial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, arrested on espionage charges, until the end of March, meaning the journalist will spend at least a year behind bars in Russia.

United States Consul General Stuart Wilson attended the hearing at Lefortovo District Court, which took place behind closed doors because authorities say details of the criminal case against the American journalist are classified.

In a video shared by state news agency Ria Novosti, Gershkovich was shown listening to the ruling, standing in a court cage wearing a hooded top and light blue jeans. He was pictured a short time later walking towards a prison van to leave the court.

Gershkovich, 32, was detained in March while on a reporting trip to the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, about 2,000 kilometres east of Moscow.

Russia’s Federal Security Service alleged that the reporter, “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

Gershkovich and the Journal deny the allegations - and the US government has declared him to be wrongfully detained. Russian authorities haven’t detailed any evidence to support the espionage charges.

During his end-of-year news conference in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow is in dialogue with the United States on bringing home both Gershkovich and another jailed American, Paul Whelan - and that the Kremlin hopes to “find a solution” even though “it’s not easy.”

Putin was replying to a question about an offer the Biden administration made to secure the two men’s release. The US State Department reported it in December, without offering details and said Russia rejected it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland in 2021
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland in 2021 - Alexander Zemlianichenko/The AP/File

“I hope we will find a solution,” Putin said, “But, I repeat, the American side must hear us and make a decision that will satisfy the Russian side as well.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said it will consider a swap for Gershkovich only after a verdict in his trial. In Russia, espionage trials can last for more than a year.

Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be charged with espionage in Russia since 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.

Gershkovich is being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, notorious for its harsh conditions.

Analysts have said that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips after US-Russian tensions soared when Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At least two US citizens arrested in Russia in recent years, including Women's National Basketball Association star Brittney Griner, have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the US.