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Evan Gershkovich. Picture: The Moscow Times/Handout via REUTERS
Evan Gershkovich. Picture: The Moscow Times/Handout via REUTERS

A Russian court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from US journalist Evan Gershkovich to be freed from pretrial detention, meaning he will stay in a former KGB prison until at least May 29 while a spying case against him is investigated.

Wall Street Journal reporter Gershkovich, denies the espionage charges. He looked calm and smiled as he stood in a glass and metal cage before the appeal ruling, wearing a checked shirt with his arms folded.

Russia’s RIA news agency reported that his lawyer, Tatiana Nozhkina, asked for Gershkovic to be freed on bail of 50-million roubles ($614,000) or placed under house arrest. She said the court rejected both suggestions.

Before the hearing began, Gershkovich turned around when one of the Russian reporters in the courtroom told him to “Stay strong!” and relayed to him that everyone said “Hi”. US ambassador Lynne Tracy stood nearby.

Asked by the judge if he needed translation, Gershkovich said no and that he understood everything.

State secrets

Russia’s FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry a possible 20-year prison sentence for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex.

The Kremlin has said Gershkovich, the first US journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, was caught “red-handed”.

The US say he is “wrongfully detained,” his employer and colleagues say he is innocent, and President Joe Biden calls his detention illegal.

His lawyer Nozhkina said he was reading Russian literature. “He’s in a combative mood, denies he is guilty, and is ready to prove it.”

Tuesday’s hearing was procedural, covering how Gershkovich should be detained, not the substance of the charges as investigators are still working on  details of the case.

Gershkovich, son of Soviet émigrés, is being held at 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 suspects accused of spying and other grave crimes.

US ambassador Tracy said on Monday she had made her first visit to Gershkovich. “He feels well and is holding up. We reiterate our call for Evan’s immediate release,” she said.

The White House said it hoped to secure regular consular access to Gershkovich.

Washington designated Gershkovich last week as “wrongfully detained”, in effect saying that the spy charges were bogus and the case political.

The US hostage envoy has pledged to do “whatever it takes” to bring home Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American former Marine who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and also designated by Washington as wrongfully detained.

Reuters

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