Russian security agents arrested Gershkovich while he was on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, near the Ural mountains, in March. Russian officials have barred U.S. Embassy officials from visiting him in prison since April, when Ambassador Lynne M. Tracy met him for the first time.
At Thursday’s hearing, Gershkovich appealed a May court decision to extend his detention in Lefortovo prison until Aug. 30. It was the third time his appeals against his detention have been dismissed.
Tracy and Gershkovich’s parents, Mikhail Gershkovich and Ella Milman, were present in the court on Thursday, and Russian media showed video of Gershkovich wearing a dark t-shirt and jeans, standing in the glass prisoner’s dock in the courtroom.
Gershkovich was able to chat briefly with his parents before the judge entered the courtroom.
He faces up to 20 years in prison in the first case of Russian espionage charges against an accredited foreign journalist since the Cold War.
The United States has declared Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained along with another American, Paul Whelan, who was jailed in 2018 and convicted on spying charges in 2020. Whelan is now serving a 16-year sentence. President Biden, Congress, and editors and journalists around the world have called for Gershkovich’s release.
Tracy said that she was “extremely disappointed” by the court’s denial of the appeal. She added she was unable to speak to Gershkovich in the court on Thursday but was able to see him.
“Despite Russian officials’ public assertions about Evan’s activities, let me reiterate the U.S. government’s firm position: the charges against him are baseless,” Tracy said.
“He is an innocent journalist who was carrying out journalistic activities and has been wrongfully detained,” the ambassador continue. “Such hostage diplomacy is unacceptable and we call on the Russian Federation to release him, as well as Paul Whelan, another U.S. citizen who has been wrongfully detained. We call for that release to occur immediately.”
Russian officials have taken an unusually harsh tone on the case, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov immediately claiming without evidence that the journalist was “caught red-handed.” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova insisted that Gershkovich’s actions had nothing to do with journalism.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told journalists on Thursday that Russia was considering another request from the U.S. Embassy for consular access, but no decision had been made. In April, Ryabkov said Moscow might be willing to discuss a prisoner exchange involving Gershkovich, but only after his trial was complete, a process likely to take months.
Tracy said that Russia had denied her request to meet Gershkovich in prison three times since she met him in April.