Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was on Tuesday denied an appeal to change the terms of his detention on espionage charges at a court hearing in Moscow.
The US citizen was arrested in Russia last month in a sign of the Kremlin’s crackdown on foreign media news outlets since it invaded Ukraine last year.
Gershkovich is currently being held in a pre-trial detention center at the notorious Lefortovo prison until May 29. He faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges. The Wall Street Journal has vehemently denied the spying accusations against Gershkovich.
He appeared in Moscow City Court to ask that his pre-trial detention be under house arrest rather than in jail.
He was pictured standing in a glass cage, standing with arms folded as journalists scrambled into the room. Gershkovich was smiling at times, in his glass cage, as proceedings were about to get underway.
During the hearing, he told the judge that he did not need the decision of his appeal translated into English. “No no, I don’t need translation,” said Gershkovich, who is a bilingual Russian-English speaker.
“On April 18, 2023, the Moscow City Court upheld the decision of the Lefortovsky District Court of Moscow dated March 30, 2023 against Evan Gershkovich, who is suspected of committing a crime under Art. 276 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation,” the court said in a statement.
Gershkovich’s legal team said it offered bail amounting to about $613,000 to the court to release the reporter from detention, but the court denied bail.
“We suggested that the court consider the choice of preventive measures not related to isolation from society, including house arrest, since Evan has a registration in the territory of Moscow; or a ban on certain actions; or a bail in the amount of 50 million rubles,” lawyer Maria Korchagina said.
“Dow Jones, the owner of the WSJ, provided a letter of guarantee that if Evan is released from custody, they are ready to provide bail in the amount of 50 million rubles. But our request was denied,” she added.
The US Ambassador to Russia, Lynne Tracy, was photographed standing to the right of the cage with lawyers. Tracy said she spoke to Gershkovich on Monday, and he remains strong and is in good health.
“The charges against Evan are baseless, and we call on the Russian Federation to immediately release him,” she said, speaking after the court made its ruling on Tuesday.
Members of the press filmed Gershkovich and subsequently left the court room.
Tatyana Nozkhkina, a lawyer for Gershkovich, said later that his team will keep appealing against the detention of the reporter. The next court date is at the end of May, when the court is due to decide on an extension of his detention.
Nozkhkina said her client was keeping in good spirits in jail, reading Russian classic novels as well as watching cooking shows on TV and exercising.
“He does not complain,” she said outside the court.
Gershkovich’s arrest marked the first detention of an American reporter in Russia on allegations of spying since the Cold War, rattling White House officials and further straining ties between Moscow and Washington.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed his arrest on Sunday, according to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, as relations between both parties have soured since the Kremlin launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia’s main security service, the FSB, claimed that Gershkovich, a correspondent based in Moscow, had been trying to obtain state secrets. The Wall Street Journal categorically rejected the accusation.
Last week, the US State Department officially designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained in Russia, giving further backing to the assertions by the US government and the Wall Street Journal that the espionage charges against the reporter are unfounded.
US President Joe Biden has also been blunt about Gershkovich’s arrest, urging Russia to “let him go.”
In December, the US negotiated the release of basketball star Brittney Griner, detained last year on what the US described as false drug smuggling charges, in a prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. But the swap did not include another American whom the State Department has declared to be unlawfully detained, Paul Whelan.
The same FSB investigator who led the Whelan investigation, Alexei Khizhnyak, is now investigating Gershkovich.
As US officials begin to consider ways to secure Gershkovich’s release, some are concerned about a prisoner swap in this case incentivizing the detainment of American journalists.
The United States “will look at creative and sometimes quite challenging options” to bring Gershkovich home, but the process could take a long time, a senior administration official told CNN Tuesday.
The official would not go into details about the options that the US is considering to secure the release of Gershkovich, and wouldn’t say if any proposals have yet been put on the table with Russians.
“Until an American is home, we’re always exploring and re-exploring and re-exploring what the options might be available to bring that American home,” the official said.
The official noted that in the past the Russians have wanted legal proceedings – which the US views as “illegitimate” – to play out in court first before they will engage in any serious negotiations.
“And that may well take a long time,” the official said.
And though the US Ambassador to Moscow was finally able to visit Gershkovich for the first time on Monday, the senior administration official said the US can’t be confident that the US will be granted consular access to Gershkovich again before his next hearing.
Russians have “flouted the norms of access that we think are vital and fundamental, including playing some very silly games about even us trying to get paperwork to Evan and trying to deliver that, trying to use the Postal Service deliver that, I mean, just kind of silly and but at the same time, very inhumane stuff for somebody in these conditions,” the official said.
“Given the way the Russians have treated this matter, but given the way they’ve also treated Whelan, Griner, Reed before that, I fear that we can’t count on norms being adhered to,” the official said, calling lack of regular consular access “appalling.”
CNN’s Rob Picheta, Tim Lister, Anna Chernova and Kylie Atwood contributed reporting.