Journalist Evan Gershkovich
Journalist Evan Gershkovich © AFP via Getty Images

Russia has formally charged Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich with espionage, according to Russian state news agencies Tass and Interfax, citing law enforcement forces.

Gershkovich, 31, “categorically denied all accusations, stating he was engaged in journalistic activities in Russia”, Tass reported on Friday, citing an unidentified source who declined to comment further as the journalist’s case is marked “top secret”.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) brought the charges a week after the US citizen was detained during a reporting trip to Ekaterinburg in Russia’s Ural Mountains region. He was later arrested, “suspected of espionage in the interests of the American government”, allegations that could carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

The FSB has yet to comment officially on the charges.

The reporter is being held in pre-trial detention at the FSB’s Lefortovo prison in Moscow, a facility where Russia holds most suspects in espionage cases.

Paul Whelan, a former US Marine serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian prison colony on similar charges, was also initially held there.

Russia has not provided consular access to Gershkovich, which White House spokesman John Kirby called “inexcusable”.

US officials and the WSJ vehemently deny the charges. US president Joe Biden and dozens of news organisations have called for his immediate release.

The arrest of Gershkovich, the New Jersey-born son of Soviet émigrés, has plunged already bad relations between Moscow and Washington to a post-cold war low. He is the first US journalist to be detained by Russia since 1986.

On Thursday, the US ambassador to Russia Lynne T Tracy discussed Gershkovich with deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov in Moscow. The minister reiterated that “serious allegations were brought against” the journalist and that he had been “detained red-handed”.

The “hype” about Gershkovich’s case in the US was “pointless” and “hopeless”, Ryabkov said.

According to the WSJ, a court in Moscow announced on Thursday that it would hear an appeal from Gershkovich’s lawyers over his detention.

“We’ve seen media reports indicating Evan has been charged. As we’ve said from the beginning, these charges are categorically false and unjustified, and we continue to demand Evan’s immediate release,” The Journal said on Friday.

Additional reporting by Felicia Schwartz

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