US reporter Gershkovich to challenge Russian jail detention

Per the court documents, Evan Gershkovich will appeal against his arrest and detention in the Moscow prison on espionage charges.
FILE PHOTO: Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich appears in this handout picture taken in Moscow, Russia, 2019.
FILE PHOTO: Reporter for U.S. newspaper The Wall Street Journal Evan Gershkovich appears in this handout picture taken in Moscow, Russia, 2019. The Moscow Times/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) -Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich will appeal on Tuesday against his arrest and detention in a former KGB prison in Moscow on charges of espionage, according to court documents.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on March 30 it had detained Gershkovich in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and had opened an espionage case against him for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex.

Gershkovich, the first U.S. journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, and the Journal have denied he was involved in espionage, as has Washington.

According to a public Russian judicial document, a Russian court will hear on Tuesday a complaint filed by Gershkovich against the decision to keep him in custody in Lefortovo prison while the case is being investigated.

The court documents gave nothing more than basic details about the case. The court said it was forbidden to publish some documents. A Russian lawyer for Gershkovich did not respond to a request for comment.

The hearing is essentially procedural covering how Gershkovich should be detained as he awaits trial, not about the substance of the charges as investigators are still working on the details of the case.

Gershkovich, the American son of Soviet-born Jews who fled to the West in 1979, was detained by the FSB on March 29 shortly after he arrived at a steakhouse in Yekaterinburg during his second trip to the Urals in a month.

He was moved to the Lefortovo prison, which in Soviet times was run by the KGB but is now operated by the Federal Penitentiary Service. Traditionally it has been used to hold those suspected by the FSB of spying and other grave crimes.

The Kremlin has said Gershkovich was carrying out espionage "under the cover" of journalism. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has told the United States that Gershkovich was caught red-handed while trying to obtain secrets.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, said on Monday she had made her first visit Gershkovich.

"He feels well and is holding up. We reiterate our call for Evan's immediate release," Tracy said in a statement.

In Washington, the White House said it hopes to get regular consular access to Gershkovich.

"It was good to get to see him today and again we want to make sure we can continue to do that," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.

The United States last week designated Gershkovich as "wrongfully detained", in effect saying that the spy charges were bogus and the case was political.

The U.S. hostage envoy has pledged to do "whatever it takes" to bring home Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American ex-Marine who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and has also been designated by Washington as wrongfully detained.

A spokesperson for The Wall Street Journal did not respond on Monday to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Guy FaulconbridgeEditing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan)

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