U.S. Journalist Evan Gershkovich Faces Secret Espionage Trial in Russia, Faces Up to 20 Years in Prison

U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich is set to face trial for espionage in Russia on Wednesday, with the proceedings classified as a state secret.

The courtroom in Yekaterinburg will be closed to reporters, friends, family, and U.S. embassy staff.

If convicted, Gershkovich, 32, could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

Russian prosecutors allege that the Wall Street Journal reporter, arrested in March last year, gathered secret information about a Russian tank manufacturer for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Gershkovich, his newspaper, and the U.S. government deny the charges. U.S. President Joe Biden has called his detention “totally illegal.”

In Russia, closed trials are customary for cases involving alleged treason or espionage with classified materials.

The Kremlin asserts, without providing evidence, that Gershkovich was caught “red-handed” and that the case is a matter for the court.

“The only people present in the court will be the judge, state prosecutor, the defendant, his lawyer, and a clerk.

” Filming and audio recording are forbidden,” said Evgeniy Smirnov, a lawyer with Pervy Otdel (First Department), which assists defendants in such cases but is not involved with Gershkovich’s defense.

Smirnov noted that the secretive nature of the trial adds a psychological burden on the defendant. “For the defendant, this is always hard.

An open trial means the chance to appeal to the public, the chance to receive support and the chance to see your loved ones at a difficult moment in your life,” he said.

Almar Latour, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal, described the trial as a “sham” and the charges as “fake.”

He stated, “Fake charges brought by an autocratic regime that is waging a war on journalism and reliable information at home and abroad.

However the trial will take place, it doesn’t take away the outrageous underlying assault on free press and on Evan’s freedom.”

Despite the risks, Gershkovich was on a reporting assignment in Yekaterinburg when he was arrested by the FSB security service on March 29 last year.

Latour declined to comment on the specifics of the trip or the prosecutors’ claims that Gershkovich was gathering information on Uralvagonzavod, a tank supplier for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“He was there as an accredited journalist, doing his job,” Latour said.

Having been imprisoned for nearly 16 months in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, Gershkovich joins other Americans detained in Russia, such as Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva and Paul Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence for spying.

President Vladimir Putin has indicated openness to a prisoner swap involving Gershkovich, although the Kremlin maintains that his case is strictly a legal matter.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov recently remarked, “the ball is in the U.S.’s court” regarding a potential trade.

Lawyer Smirnov, based outside Russia, said such trials typically last two to three months and that there is no precedent for acquittal in espionage cases in Putin’s Russia.

“Evan’s eventual fate will be decided not in the courtroom but in the high offices of politicians,” he concluded.