A Moscow court on Thursday rejected an appeal by Ivan Gershkovitch, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, who asked to end his pre-trial detention in Russia, where he was imprisoned and accused of espionage 12 weeks ago.
Mr. Gershkovich, an American journalist who has been in Russia for nearly six years, was arrested in late March and charged with espionage, which he denies. Last month, his detention was extended until August 30. Although Russian prosecutors did not present any evidence, he was held for 12 weeks in the maximum security Lefortovo prison in Moscow, which is run by a KGB successor and known for harsh conditions that include extreme isolation.
The court refused his lawyer’s request. The US Ambassador to Russia, Lynn Tracy, was present, as were Mr. Gershkovich’s parents, Ella Melman and Mikhail Gershkovich.
The charges against them have been strongly denied by the US government and The Journal. The White House said Mr. Gershkovitch has been “unjustly detained,” which amounts to being a political prisoner. This designation changes Washington’s approach to detaining an American abroad, usually because it believes the prisoner was detained for arbitrary reasons or that he or she does not face legitimate charges or a fair judicial process.
Russia said on Thursday that it had received a request from the United States for a consular visit to the journalist and was studying it, the Interfax news agency reported. The agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said, “There is no decision yet, but it is being studied.” Although Russia granted such a visit in April, it refused other requests for it.
Freedom of the press in Russia witnessed a sharp decline under President Vladimir Putin, as he adopted authoritarian measures targeting journalists, the opposition, and the opposition. Mr. Putin has had an eye for domestic journalists, especially since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began last year, allowing foreign correspondents to operate with some freedom.
But that changed on March 29, when Gershkovitch was arrested while on a reporting trip in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, becoming the first Western journalist accused of espionage since the Cold War. If convicted, he could face 20 years in a Russian penal colony.
The House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution on June 13 calling on the Russian government to release Mr. Gershkovitch and Paul Whelan, a former US Marine serving a 16-year prison sentence after being convicted of espionage in 2020.
Dmitry Muratov, Russia’s 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, praised the work of Mr. Gershkovitch during a media forum in Bonn, Germany, on Tuesday.
“I know him very well – almost all of Moscow knows him well,” Mr. Muratov said in a speech to the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. “He loves the country he works in. He’s an incredible journalist, and he’s by no means a spy.”
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