Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in the glass defendants' cage in the Yekaterinburg courthouse where his trial began on June 26. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in the glass defendants' cage in the Yekaterinburg courthouse where his trial began on June 26. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

Closed-door espionage trial of American Jewish journalist Evan Gershkovich begins in Russia

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(JTA) — The closed-door trial of American Jewish reporter Evan Gershkovich began in Russia on Wednesday, 15 months after his arrest there on espionage charges widely regarded as spurious.

The trial is being held in Yekaterinburg, the city where Gershkovich, now 32, was arrested while on assignment as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in March 2023. He was held in Moscow before being moved prior to the trial, and appeared in court with his head shaven, as is customary in Russia.

Jewish activists and organizations have mobilized to support Gershkovich since his arrest. On Passover in 2023, seder tables around the world included an empty seat for the journalist to symbolize his imprisonment, and Jewish Federations spearheaded a letter-writing campaign over Rosh Hashanah that year.

Gershkovich, his employer and the United States all deny that he is a spy, and U.S. authorities have been trying to secure his release. He is the first American reporter since the Cold War to be arrested on espionage charges in Russia.

“Evan has never been employed by the United States government,” said John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Evan is not a spy. Journalism is not a crime, and Evan should never have been tried in the first place.”

Russian investigators announced earlier this month that they had collected evidence that Gershkovich was in Yekaterinburg on behalf of the CIA to gather information on Russian arms manufacturer Uralvagonzavod, which produces tanks and other weapons used in Russia’s war in Ukraine. They have shared no evidence supporting their claims, and the trial is not open to the public.

“His case is not about evidence, procedural norms, or the rule of law,” the U.S. Embassy in Russia said in a statement published Wednesday. “It is about the Kremlin using American citizens to achieve its political objectives.

Gershkovich faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Aug. 13.

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