Russia extends US reporter Evan Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention

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A Moscow court on Tuesday extended US journalist Evan Gershkovich’s pre-trial detention until June 30, ensuring he will have spent more than one year behind bars.

Prosecutors accuse the Wall Street Journal reporter of espionage - the first such charge against a Western journalist in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The 32-year-old is being held in Moscow’s notoriously isolated Lefortovo prison and faces a maximum 20 years in jail if found guilty.

The Moscow courts service said it had “extended the term of detention of Evan Gershkovich until June 30, 2024,” following a hearing in the Russian capital.

Gershkovich, his employers and the White House all vehemently reject the accusation, which they say was fabricated.

Friday marks one year since Gershkovich’s surprise arrest by FSB counterintelligence agents in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

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“This verdict to further prolong Evan’s detention feels particularly painful, as this week marks one year since Evan was arrested and wrongfully detained,” US ambassador Lynne Tracy said following the verdict.

“The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction,” she added outside the court.

President Vladimir Putin said in February he would like to see Gershkovich released as part of a prisoner exchange.

In remarks to conservative American TV commentator Tucker Carlson, he said talks between Russia and the United States about a possible swap were ongoing.

The Russian leader made clear he wanted any deal to involve the release of a Russian jailed in Germany for killing a Chechen dissident.

Bring him home

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting US citizens on baseless charges to use them as bargaining chips to secure the release of Russians convicted abroad.

US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was detained last year for failing to register as a “foreign agent,” a case denounced by her employers as politically motivated.

Former US marine Paul Whelan, in prison in Russia since 2018 and serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges, is also pushing to be included in any future prisoner exchange.

“The United States will not rest until Evan and Paul are free and back home in the United States with their families,” Ambassador Tracy said last month.

Gershkovich’s family told AFP earlier this year they were counting on a “very personal” promise from President Joe Biden to bring him home.

Treason is punishable by up to life in prison under legislation toughened since the start of Russia’s military offensive against Ukraine.

The US government has declared that Gershkovich is wrongfully detained, meaning it effectively regards him as a political hostage.

At Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, the reporter shares a small cell with another inmate.

He gets an hour-long walk in a small prison yard every day, tries to stay fit through exercise and relies on fruit and vegetables sent by friends to supplement the meager prison diet.

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