By Guy Faulconbridge and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – A Moscow court on Tuesday rejected US journalist Evan Gershkovich’s appeal to be released from pre-trial detention, meaning he will remain in a former KGB prison until at least May 29 as a case of espionage against him.
Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, denies the espionage allegations. He looked calm and smiled as he stood in a glass and metal cage in front of the sentence, wearing a plaid shirt, with his arms folded.
His legal team had asked that he be released on bail of 50 million rubles ($614,000) provided by his publisher Dow Jones or placed under house arrest, his lawyer Tatiana Nozhkina said.
“He’s in a fighting mood,” Nozhkina told reporters outside the courthouse. “He’s ready to defend himself and prove he’s innocent.”
Before the hearing began, Gershkovich spun around when one of the Russian reporters in the courtroom told him to “Stay strong!” and reported to him that everyone said “Hello”.
A masked man with “FSB” written on his black uniform stood by the cage as the judge denied the appeal. US Ambassador Lynne Tracy stood just a few feet away, observing the proceedings with a handful of foreign and Russian journalists admitted to the courtroom.
When asked by the judge if he needed a translation, Gershkovich said in Russian that he understood everything. His lawyers said they would appeal the decision.
The Journal said it expected the appeal to be denied, but was still disappointed.
“Evan is being unjustly detained and the spying charges against him are false,” Dow Jones chief executive officer Almar Latour and Journal editor Emma Tucker said in a statement.
“We are calling for his immediate release and are doing everything in our power to get him.”
Russia’s FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29 in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry a possible 20-year prison sentence, for collecting what it said were state secrets about the complex military industrialist.
The Kremlin said Gershkovich, the first US journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, was caught “red-handed”.
The United States has deemed him “wrongfully detained,” his employer and colleagues have declared he is innocent, and President Joe Biden has called his detention illegal.
“She is reading a lot in prison – Russian literature in the original Russian,” Nozhkina told RockedBuzz via Reuters, adding that she was reading Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece ‘War and Peace’ about the French invasion of Russia in 1812.
When asked about prison food, Nozhkina said that Gershkovich was given porridge in the morning and the food was ordinary.
Tuesday’s hearing did not address the merits of the allegations as the investigation is still ongoing.
Gershkovich, the son of Soviet émigrés, is being held in Lefortovo Prison, which was run by the KGB in Soviet times but is now run by the Federal Penitentiary Service.
It has traditionally been used to detain those suspected of espionage and other serious crimes.
Yaroslav Shirshikov, a Yekaterinburg political pundit whom Gershkovich interviewed in mid-March and was due to meet again, was charged on Tuesday with inciting terrorism.
Yekaterinburg Online news quoted Shirshikov’s lawyer Fyodor Akchermyshev as saying he was accused of publicly expressing views on the killing of pro-war military blogger Vladlen Tatarsky in St. Petersburg this month.
Shirshikov admitted to publishing the statements in question but denied ever condoning or supporting terrorism, the lawyer said. ($1 = 81.3420 rubles)
(Edited by Peter Graff, Gareth Jones, Angus MacSwan and Deepa Babington)