Russia has arrested an American reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Evan Gershkovich, on espionage charges which a Kremlin spokesman claimed was not based on suspicion but on being caught “red-handed.” According to AP News, this is the first time since the Cold War that an American reporter has been detained on accusations of espionage. The Wall Street Journal is denying the allegations and is demanding Gershkovich’s immediate release.
Gershkovich was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg by the Federal Security Service (FSB), which is the top security agency in Russia and the main successor to the KGB of the Soviet era. The FSB alleged that Gershkovich “was acting on instructions from the American side to collect information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex that constitutes a state secret.”
A Moscow court ruled that Gershkovich would remain behind bars pending the investigation. Yevgeny Smirnov, a lawyer with the First Department group, said that those arrested on espionage and treason charges are often held at the FSB’s Lefortovo prison, where Prisoners are usually placed in total isolation and prohibited from making phone calls, having visitors, or access to newspapers. Prisoners may receive written letters, said Smirnov, but they often do not arrive until weeks later. The trial would also likely be held behind closed doors, Smirnov said.
Gershkovich’s arrest means that the unwritten rule that accredited foreign journalists are free to do their work no longer applies. Gershkovich has accreditation from the Russian Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist in the country. Jeanne Cavelier, of Reporters Without Borders, warned that such circumstances are alarming as it appears Russia is trying to intimidate foreign journalists to stop their reporting, adding that the arrest may also be retaliatory.
The Biden administration said they have spoken with The Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich’s family. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre “condemned the arrest ‘in the strongest terms’ and urged Americans to heed government warnings not to travel to Russia.” Jean-Pierre explained that the State Department is in direct contact with the Russian government seeking access to Gershkovich.