Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to stand trial in Russia on espionage charges

The decision is a setback for the American taken into custody in March 2023.

June 13, 2024, 2:51 PM

In a setback to Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, the Russian prosecutor's office announced Thursday he will stand trial on espionage charges, officially ending any future pre-detention appeals.

"The Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation has approved an indictment in the criminal case against US citizen Evan Gershkovich," the office said in a statement. "The criminal case has been sent to the Sverdlovsk Regional Court for consideration on the merits."

It continued, "The investigation established and documented that the American journalist of The Wall Street Journal, Gershkovich, on the instructions of the CIA in March 2023, collected secret information in the Sverdlovsk region about the activities of the defense enterprise JSC NPK Uralvagonzavod for the production and repair of military equipment."

Gershkovich has denied he was involved in any espionage and the U.S. State Department has declared him to be wrongfully detained.

The statement Thursday marks the first time prosecutors have publicly accused Gershkovich of working for the CIA, alleging without evidence that he was collecting "secret information" on a tank factory in the Sverdlovsk region. Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal, the U.S. government and Gershkovich's many colleagues all vehemently dispute he was working as a spy and say that he was doing his job as a reporter.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, left, stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the First Appeals Court of General Jurisdiction in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 23, 2024.
Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP, FILE

Gershkovich was on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg, the capital of the Sverdlovsk region, when he was arrested in March 2023.

Previously, prosecutors have alleged Gershkovich was working for a foreign intelligence service without specifying which one.

"Evan Gershkovich is facing a false and baseless charge," Almar Latour, Dow Jones CEO and Wall Street Journal publisher, and Emma Tucker, Wall Street Journal editor in chief, said in a joint statement published in The Wall Street Journal. "Russia's latest move toward a sham trial is, while expected, deeply disappointing and still no less outrageous."

They added, "Evan has spent 441 days wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for simply doing his job. Evan is a journalist. The Russian regime's smearing of Evan is repugnant, disgusting and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime. Evan's case is an assault on free press."

In March, Gershkovich's parents had told ABC News they were optimistic about progress in their son's case.

"We know that the U.S. government is taking Evan's case very seriously," his mother, Ella Milman, told "Good Morning America" co-anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive sit-down interview.

"I think if you let the pessimism in ... the game is over," she said. "And our saying in the family is we're moving forward. Moving forward."

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Dec. 14, 2023.
Dmitry Serebryakov/AP, FILE

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first comments on Gershkovich's detention in months on June 5.

"I know that the United States administration is really taking energetic steps for his release. This is true. But such issues are not resolved through the media," Putin said. "They love such a quiet, calm professional approach and dialogue between the intelligence services."

He added, "You know, you believe that he is innocent, and Russian law enforcement agencies and special services believe that he committed illegal actions, which are called espionage. I will not go into details."

Gershkovich most recently appeared in court in Moscow for a pretrial hearing on April 23 as part of an appeal against the spying charges. His appeal was denied and he was ordered held through at least June 30.

The reporter smiled and gave a thumb's up when asked by ABC News inside the courtroom how he was doing.

"He has one more appeal that he can make, appealing his detention, but what's most likely going to happen before the 30th of June is Evan will be moved from Lefortovo, where he is currently held in prison, to instead Yekaterinburg, and when he gets out to Yekaterinburg, that's when the trial process most likely will start," U.S. Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens said Thursday during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

Carstens continued: "I will tell you, if it's anything like what happened to Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan, Trevor Reed, there will be a period when he leaves Lefortovo where we won't have any contact with him. It'll almost be like it's gone dark."

The U.S. has been negotiating the release of both Gershkovich and Paul Whelan since not long after their detentions. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, was also accused of spying in 2018 and convicted in June 2020. Like Gershkovich, he has been declared wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.

"We're going to continue to try to pursue his release," State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Thursday of Gershkovich. "We put a substantial offer on the table to secure the release of Evan and Paul Whelan some months ago, as we said publicly, we're continuing to work to secure their release. It's one of the secretary's and the president's highest priorities."

ABC News' Shannon K. Crawford, Will Gretsky and Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

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