Russia: US reporter in custody, newspaper rejects espionage allegations

Russia: US reporter in custody, newspaper rejects espionage allegations

Journalists live dangerously in Russia. In the midst of the conflict with the USA, the domestic secret service FSB has now arrested a western correspondent for alleged espionage. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

A court in Moscow has issued an arrest warrant for a journalist who is also investigating Russia’s war against Ukraine for alleged espionage for the United States. The reporter from the renowned US newspaper “Wall Street Journal” was initially in custody until May 29, the court said on Thursday in Moscow. Born in 1991, Evan Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The newspaper rejected the allegations against its employee, who did his job.

Criminal justice in Russia is considered to be politically controlled, and most charges end with a guilty verdict. The Russian domestic secret service FSB had previously announced that it had arrested the man in Yekaterinburg in the Urals for “espionage in the interests of the American government”. Criminal proceedings have been initiated against him. Gershkovich collected information on the military-industrial complex in Russia on behalf of the US side, which constitutes a state secret.

“The foreigner was detained in Yekaterinburg trying to obtain classified information,” the FSB said. Media had previously reported that the reporter had disappeared. He had therefore tried to write a report on the attitude of the population to the recruitment attempts by the Wagner private army, which is deployed in the war against Ukraine. “The Wall Street Journal is deeply concerned for Mister Gershkovich’s safety,” the newspaper commented on the arrest.

Shortly after the arrest became known, the Kremlin considered the allegations to be justified. “As far as we know, he was caught in the act,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on state radio on Thursday. The Sverdlovsk region around Yekaterinburg is considered one of the strongholds of the Russian armaments industry. When asked, Peskov said he doesn’t hope that there will be repression against Russian journalists in the United States.

“At least it shouldn’t be, because the case (the arrest of Gershkovich) – I repeat – it’s not about suspicion, but about the fact that he was caught red-handed,” said the Kremlin spokesman. Recently, German journalists had also complained about persecution and threats during visits to Yekaterinburg.

“Putin is ready to use any method”

The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, took the case as an opportunity to accuse Western correspondents of spying against Russia under the guise of journalism. Zakharova said what Gershkovich was doing in Yekaterinburg had nothing to do with journalism.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first case where the status of foreign correspondent, journalist visa and accreditation of foreigners in our country are used to disguise an activity that is not journalism,” she claimed on her Telegram channel.

Zakharova also repeatedly complains that Russian journalists are being subjected to repression in the West, including in Germany. Only last week did she publicly warn against taking steps against German correspondents in Moscow should the German government exert pressure on Russians. Even after Deutsche Welle was kicked out of Russia, about two dozen correspondents still work for the German media.

The Wall Street Journal has meanwhile denied all allegations against Gershkovich and called for his release. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family,” the newspaper said. The human rights organization Reporters Without Borders called the arrest of the journalist “worrying”. “Journalists must not become targets,” the organization demanded.

Russia restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press

In 2022, as part of its war of aggression against Ukraine, the Russian leadership once again significantly restricted freedom of expression and the press in the country. There are also threats of proceedings for discrimination or damage to the reputation of the Russian army. Some correspondents and media temporarily stopped working for fear of repression last year after the start of the war. The number of western journalists has dwindled because many media outlets do not obtain accreditation for their reporters.

Americans are repeatedly suspected of espionage or other crimes in Russia. This is likely to be the first espionage case against a journalist officially accredited to the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Russian opposition spoke of a “hostage situation”. “Putin is ready to use any method to put pressure on the West,” said the team of jailed Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny.

In the past, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin had time and again freed Russian criminals imprisoned in the United States through exchanges with Americans convicted in Moscow. His spokesman Peskov initially did not want to comment on such a possibility in the case of Gershkovich. But the Kremlin spokesman said that Wall Street Journal correspondents could continue to work in Russia if they obeyed the law.

Source: Stern

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