Trial of American Journalist Begins in Russia Over Espionage Claims

The trial for the Wall Street Journal reporter held in Russia for 15 months began behind closed doors in a courtroom in Yekaterinburg last week.

Evan Gershkovich was arrested by Russian authorities in March 2023 while reporting in the Ural Mountain city and charged with espionage. Russia claimed without evidence that Gershkovich was secretly gathering information on behalf of the United States, a charge both the US government and the Wall Street Journal strenuously deny.

The indictment against Gershkovich was finalized on June 13 and filed in the Sverdlovsk Regional Court in Yekaterinburg.

According to the Prosecutor General’s office, the 32-year-old reporter allegedly gathered secret information on behalf of the CIA on the Uralvagonzavad facility in Sverdlovsk that manufactures and repairs military equipment.

Kremlin officials suggested a possible prisoner swap involving Gershkovich but only after the court reaches a verdict, which could take months. Even after the court delivers a verdict, Gershkovich could remain in a Russian prison for months or even years before an agreement on a prisoner swap is reached.

Reporters were only permitted in the courtroom for a few minutes before the June 26 hearing began.

According to the US Embassy in Moscow, two consular officials were allowed to meet with Gershkovich only briefly before they were instructed to leave.

The hearing lasted roughly two hours and a second hearing was scheduled for August 13.

In a statement last Wednesday, Wall Street Journal publisher Almar Latour and the paper’s editor-in-chief Emma Tucker described the trial as a “sham” that was “based on fabricated accusations.” They called Gershkovich’s detention “an unfathomable attack on the free press.”

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller opened his June 26 press briefing by calling on Moscow to stop using American citizens like Gershkovich and former Marine Paul Whelan as “bargaining chips.” He described the hearing as a “performance” by Russian officials “to justify their repression of journalists and independent voices.”

Gershkovich, the son of Soviet immigrants, is the first Western reporter to be charged with espionage in post-Soviet Russia. If found guilty, which he likely will be, he would face up to 20 years in prison.