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Russian Court Extends Evan Gershkovich’s Pre-Trial Detention

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is approaching the one-year mark of when he was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service, (FSB) while on a reporting trip. 

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A Russian court extended his pre-trial detention by three months. A trial date has not been set. He is 32 years old now and was detained on March 29, 2023. He is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison. He is charged with espionage.

What sets Evan’s detention apart from other American citizens being held in Russia is that he is a reporter. He is the first reporter to be detained in Russia on an allegation of espionage since the end of the Cold War. 

Evan, the Wall Street Journal, the State Department, and his family deny that Evan is a spy. He was accredited by Russia’s Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist when he was detained. Evan’s court appearance was a closed hearing at the Moscow City Court. The FSB requested Evan remain behind bars as he awaits trial. He will be held until June 30 due to the latest ruling of the court. 

Investigators are allowed up to a year in criminal cases that are deemed particularly complex to prepare for trial, according to Russian law. Extensions can be granted in exceptional circumstances. 

Evan’s detention is indeed an exceptional circumstance from an American point of view. He’s the first journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War. That is an important distinction. This is Putin jabbing his finger in Joe Biden’s eye. Biden is perceived as weak on the world stage. Putin is emboldened and testing how far he can go. He is testing boundaries. And, he is detaining Americans to use as leverage to make prisoner swap deals he wants to make.

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U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy released a statement. She said that Evan remains resilient and acknowledged that the ruling in favor of extending his detention was “particularly painful” since this week marks a year since he was detained.

“The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction,” she said.

Gershkovich’s detention is “not about evidence, due process or rule of law,” Tracy said. It is about “using American citizens as pawns to achieve political ends,” she added.

 The Wall Street Journal also released a statement.

The Wall Street Journal said in a statement, “It’s a ruling that ensures Evan will sit in a Russian prison well past one year. It was also Evan’s 12th court appearance, baseless proceedings that falsely portray him as something other than what he is—a journalist who was doing his job. He should never have been detained. Journalism is not a crime, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”

Court proceedings in Russia are usually closed, especially in espionage cases. There has been no evidence presented against Evan in court. 

Last week, Jason Conti, general counsel for the Wall Street Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones, said during an event at the National Press Club that the U.S. government should deliver immediate consequences, including sanctions, against authoritarian countries that wrongfully detain reporters. 

The Biden administration said it sanctioned the FSB about a month after Evan was detained. Allegedly, the sanctions were being put together before Evan’s detention. The administration said sanctions would pressure Putin. It has not done so. Since Evan’s detention, other Americans have been detained, including another journalist. 

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Evan is designated as wrongfully detained by the State Department. That commits the government to securing his release. He and Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage in a Russian penal colony, are the only Americans with that designation in Russia by the State Department. 

Putin said in February that he is open to a prison swap with Evan and maybe Whelan for a Russian being held prisoner. He didn’t give a time frame or a name but it is thought that he was speaking about Russian operative Vadim Krasikov. He is serving a life sentence in Germany for gunning down a Chechen emigre in a Berlin park in 2019. 

Evan’s story gets a lot of publicity because he is a journalist. I wish other Americans being detained were given the same attention. The Washington Post editorial board published an op-ed yesterday stating that Evan should be freed now. 

Not even during the Cold War, when the Soviet police state routinely harassed and sometimes expelled Western correspondents, did any U.S. reporter receive the kind of long-term detention to which Mr. Gershkovich is being subjected. (He is still awaiting trial.) The closest parallel is the case of U.S. News & World Report correspondent Nicholas Daniloff, whom Soviet authorities detained in 1986, also on phony charges of espionage. The regime kept him for just 13 days in Lefortovo, followed by 17 days of house arrest in the U.S. Embassy, before letting him return to the United States in exchange for a Soviet official arrested in the United States.

But this is Vladimir Putin’s Russia and thuggery reigns. Probably, Mr. Putin is holding Mr. Gershkovich as a chit to be traded for actual Russian spies or other criminals held in the West. Mr. Putin used similar tactics in the case of U.S. women’s basketball star Brittney Griner, arrested at a Moscow airport on dubious drug charges in February 2022 and released in a trade that December for Viktor Bout, a Russian convicted in the United States of arms trafficking and other crimes. The next such offender Moscow hopes to deal for could be Vadim Krasikov, an FSB assassin convicted in Germany in December 2021 of the brazen daylight murder of a Chechen dissident in a central Berlin park.

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Interestingly, WaPo goes back to 1986. That was Reagan’s time in office. Reagan was a strong leader, as opposed to Joe Biden today. Perception is everything in politics. Biden’s weakness jeopardizes Americans overseas. 

The op-ed ends with this:

In a just and rational world, Mr. Putin would unconditionally free these people. In this misbegotten moment, though, it falls to the Biden administration to explore every possible option to secure their releases, including negotiations with Moscow, to make sure this bitter anniversary never comes around again. Meanwhile, the cruelty Mr. Putin is inflicting upon these Americans, and their families, cannot be overstated. And the names of Ksenia Khavana, Alsu Kurmasheva, Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich cannot be forgotten.

The Biden administration does not have a good record in bringing Americans home. His record is the opposite. He leaves military members and helpers behind, as he did in the disastrous withdrawal in Afghanistan. He leaves Americans behind when violence breaks out overseas, as in Israel and Haiti. He is not strong enough to do what needs to be done. 

Our enemies are watching. They are emboldened by Biden’s weakness. The world is a dangerous place for Americans right now. Biden doesn’t care. 

When I write about Evan and other Americans detained overseas, as I often do, I feel anger that we have such weak leadership in the White House. We need a change. Thank you for coming here and supporting the writers at Hot Air as we fight the good fight every day. We can do that thanks to your support. Will you consider increasing your support and becoming a VIP member, if you have not already done so? Please go HERE and find the plan that works best for you. We need all hands on deck as we approach the elections in November. We can’t do it without you. Thank you for your consideration. We have a country to save!

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