‘Sham’ trial of American journalist Gershkovich to begin in Russia

Washington — The closed-door trial of American journalist Evan Gershkovich is set to begin on Wednesday in Russia, nearly 15 months after he was jailed on espionage charges that are widely viewed as baseless and politically motivated.

A correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich was detained in March 2023 on spying charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government vehemently deny. The State Department has also declared Gershkovich wrongfully detained.

Press freedom experts have said that the trial against Gershkovich will almost certainly be a politically motivated sham.

The trial is taking place in Yekaterinburg, where Gershkovich was first detained. The city in the Ural Mountains is about 1,400 kilometers (870 miles) east of Moscow.

Russian authorities have accused Gershkovich of “gathering secret information” about a military facility. But to date, Moscow has not publicly provided any evidence to substantiate the charges against Gershkovich, who was accredited by Russia’s foreign ministry to work in the country.

Russia’s Washington Embassy did not immediately reply to a VOA email requesting comment.

Secret trials are common practice in Russia for cases of alleged treason or espionage involving classified state material. The charges against Gershkovich carry a sentence of up to 20 years behind bars.

In an open letter on Tuesday, The Journal’s editor-in-chief, Emma Tucker, reaffirmed her view that the trial will not be a fair display of justice.

“To even call it a trial, however, is unfair to Evan and a continuation of this travesty of justice that already has gone on for far too long,” she wrote.

It is not clear whether U.S. officials will be permitted to observe the trial. But Daniel Kanigan, the spokesperson of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, told VOA that the mission “will make efforts to attend any future proceedings.”

Gershkovich is one of two American journalists currently jailed in Russia.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S.-Russian national who works at VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, has been jailed since October 2023 on charges of failing to self-register as a “foreign agent” and spreading what the Kremlin views as false information about the Russian army.

Kurmasheva rejects the charges against her, and the U.S. government has called for her immediate release.

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