American journalist Evan Gershkovich stands inside a defendants' cage at Moscow City Court on June 22, 2023.(Photo/JTA-Natalia Kolesnikova-AFP via Getty Images)
American journalist Evan Gershkovich stands inside a defendants' cage at Moscow City Court on June 22, 2023.(Photo/JTA-Natalia Kolesnikova-AFP via Getty Images)

Russian court extends pretrial detention of Jewish journalist Evan Gershkovich until November

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(JTA) — A Russian court has extended the pretrial detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich for another three months.

In a hearing on Thursday at Lefortovo District Court that was closed to press, a judge ordered Gershkovich to remain in detention until at least Nov. 30, a court spokeswoman said. Investigators from the FSB, a Russian state security agency, had requested the extension.

Gershkovich, 31, is the American-born son of Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union. He was arrested while on a reporting trip in the city of Yekaterinburg on March 29 and charged with espionage.

Gershkovich, The Wall Street Journal and the United States government deny the charges. If convicted, he would face up to 20 years in a penal colony.

Gershkovich’s pretrial detention was initially scheduled to end on May 29 before it was extended until Aug. 30. This latest extension until November means he could remain in jail for eight months following his arrest, if not longer, before a trial begins.

In some criminal cases, according to Russia’s Criminal Procedure Code, pretrial detention can be extended for up to 12 months following arrest. But in other instances, courts grant further extensions as prosecutors and investigators prepare their case, the Wall Street Journal reported.

At a news conference in Helsinki last month, President Biden said the United States was “serious about a prisoner exchange,” which American officials have long seen as the most plausible way of securing Gershkovich’s freedom. In 2022, The United States obtained the release of WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was imprisoned in Russia, via a prisoner swap.

“I’m serious about doing what we can to free Americans being illegally held in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter,” Biden said. “And that process is underway.”

But in a briefing last month, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who met with representatives from The Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich’s family, said he did not want to “give false hope” about bringing him home.

“There have been discussions, but those discussions have not produced a clear pathway to a resolution, and so I cannot stand here today and tell you that we have a clear answer to how we are going to get Evan home,” Sullivan said.

Russian officials have previously hinted at a prisoner exchange. But discussions of a possible swap have hit roadblocks, according to the Journal, as the United States has been unable to extradite Russian prisoners held in German and Brazilian custody. Russia has not appeared to express any interest in prisoners currently in U.S. custody.

The Journal has reported that any consideration of a swap involving Gershkovich would have to wait until after a verdict is reached in his case, and that Russia may delay a prisoner exchange until after the 2024 presidential election in order to exacerbate discord in the United States.

Jackie Hajdenberg
Jackie Hajdenberg

Jackie Hajdenberg is a reporter at JTA. She has a degree in political science from Barnard College and a master’s in journalism from Columbia Journalism School. Her reporting and writing has appeared in USA Today, PBS Frontline, the Detroit Free Press, Vox and Hey Alma. She writes satire and hangs out on Twitter @DrJackieMrsHajd