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Russia throws US reporter behind bars, accusing him of spying

A van carrying Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich leaves the Lefortovsky court, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023.
A van carrying Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich leaves the Lefortovsky court, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 30, 2023. Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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Russian secret services have arrested a journalist at the Wall Street Journal.

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The United States is seeking to establish consular access to Evan Gershkovich, the American journalist detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage.

Gershkovich, who works for the Wall Street Journal, could face up to 20 years in prison.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the charges on Thursday. "These espionage charges are ridiculous," she said.

"The targeting of American citizens by the Russian government is unacceptable. We condemn the detention of Mr Gershkovich in the strongest terms.

"We also condemn the Russian government's continued targeting and repression of journalists."

Russia's notorious FSB security service claimed the well-respected reporter "was collecting classified information about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”

They accused the 31-year-old of "acting on instructions from the American side". 

The newspaper denies these allegations. 

“It is not about a suspicion, is it about the fact that he was caught red-handed,” Kremlin spokesman  Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Gershkovich has lived in Moscow for six years, speaks Russia and is accredited with Russia's foreign ministry. 

He is the first journalist working for a US news outlet to be arrested on espionage charges since the dark days of the Cold War. 

Before being detained, Gershkovich was reportedly working on a story about Wagner, a Russian mercenary force that has gained notoriety fighting in Ukraine. 

“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the newspaper said. 

“We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”

The European Union and the United Nations have also condemned the charges.

In a Tweet, the EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell "Journalists must be allowed to exercise their profession freely and deserve protection."

And Stephane Dujarric, a UN spokesperson, said, "the secretary general has expressed his concern over and over again at the growing trend where we are seeing journalists being harassed or detained or worse, just for doing their job. And I will leave it at that."

The arrest comes amid unprecedented tensions between the West and Moscow, following its invasion of Ukraine in February.

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In an unprecedented campaign of repression, not seen since the Soviet era, the Kremlin has cracked down on critical voices, such as opposition activists, independent journalists and civil society. 

On Tuesday, a Russian man was sentenced to two years in prison, after his 13-year-old daughter drew anti-war pictures at school. She was sent to an orphanage. 

The last US reporter to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia was Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for US News and World Report, in 1986. 

He was released without charge 20 days later in a swap for a member of the Soviet Union's United Nations mission who was arrested by the FBI, also on spying charges.

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