Evan Gershkovich: US journalist seen with shaved head as he goes on trial in Russia for spying

Evan Gershkovich has been seen with a shaved head as he went on trial behind-closed-doors in Russia accused of spying.

Reporters were allowed to briefly film the US journalist on Wednesday before the start of the hearing in the city of Yekaterinburg where he is charged with espionage, which he denies.

Mr Gershkovich was seen standing in a glass box wearing a black-and-blue checked shirt before the proceedings were closed.

The next hearing was set for 13 August.

The Wall Street Journal reporter was first arrested and detained in March 2023 after Russia claimed he had been "gathering secret information" on orders from the CIA.

The 32-year-old reporter, who has already spent nearly 15 months behind bars in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo jail, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Russian courts convict more than 99% of the defendants who come before them, and prosecutors can appeal sentences they regard as too lenient, and can even appeal acquittals.

Last week, the first details of the allegations against him emerged as it was claimed he was seeking details about Uralvagonzavod, a facility that produces and repairs military equipment, the prosecutor general's office said.

The authorities have not publicly disclosed any evidence to back up the accusations.

The trial is due to take place behind closed doors - something Russia says is normal in espionage cases.

Mr Gershkovich, his employer and the US government strongly deny the claims and Washington has designated him wrongfully detained.

Jay Conti, executive vice president and general counsel for Dow Jones, which publishes the Journal, described the trial as a sham, saying: "He was an accredited journalist doing journalism, and this is a sham trial, bogus charges that are completely trumped up."

"Evan has done nothing wrong. He should never have been arrested in the first place. Journalism is not a crime," US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week.

He added: "The charges against him are false. And the Russian government knows that they're false. He should be released immediately."

The White House has sought to negotiate Mr Gershkovich's release, but Russia's foreign ministry said Moscow would consider a prisoner swap only after a trial verdict.

However, that could be months away, because Russian trials often adjourn for weeks.

While Russia-US relations are fraught over the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin and Washington did agree a high-profile prisoner exchange in 2022 that secured the release of basketball star star Brittney Griner, who was serving a lengthy sentence for cannabis possession.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested Mr Gershkovic could be swapped in return for the release of Vadim Krasikov, a Russian imprisoned in Germany for assassinating a Chechen rebel leader in Berlin.

However, this would require the cooperation of Germany in a Russia-US dispute.

Mr Gershkovich, the American-born son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, was the first US journalist detained on espionage charges since Nicholas Daniloff in 1986 at the height of the Cold War.

It followed a crackdown on freedom of speech after Mr Putin sent troops into Ukraine.