June 19, 2024

Trial for Evan Gershkovich Scheduled to Begin June 26 in Secret in Russia

By Donald Gilpin

A Russian court announced on Monday that the trial of journalist and former Princeton resident Evan Gershkovich, who has been imprisoned in Russia for almost 15 months, would begin on June 26 and would be held behind closed doors, according to news sources.

A 2010 Princeton High School graduate, Gershkovich was on a reporting trip for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg in March 2023 when he was detained by Russian security officials and incarcerated in a high-security prison in Moscow.

Gershkovich, who is fluent in Russian, which he spoke at home with his Jewish parents, who had been born in the Soviet Union and fled to the United States in 1970, has been charged with espionage. He is the first American to be imprisoned on espionage charges in Russia since 1986 during the Cold War.

Gershkovich, the WSJ, and the U.S. government have all denied the charges against him, and the State Department has designated him as “wrongfully detained.”

The “latest development means a sham trial is imminent,” the WSJ said in a statement quoted in the paper on Monday. “We expect that all parties will work to bring Evan home now. Time is of the essence. As we’ve said, the Russian regime’s smearing of Evan is repugnant and based on calculated and transparent lies. Journalism is not a crime, and Evan’s case is an assault on free press.”

Talks have been taking place between Russian and American security services about a possible prisoner exchange for Gershkovich, according to the New York Times, but Russian authorities have stated that there will not be an exchange until after a verdict is rendered in his case. An espionage trial usually takes about four months in Russia but can take up to a year, the Times reports. If convicted, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison.

Russian prosecutors last week alleged that Gershkovich was working for the CIA and “was collecting secret information” about a factory producing weapons and other military equipment. There has been no evidence presented publicly to support the charges, and the WSJ has stated that “in fact, Gershkovich was on a reporting assignment for the Journal in Yekaterinburg.”

The WSJ has suggested that Russia may be “pursuing a campaign to collect prisoners it can use as bargaining chips to expedite the return of Russian convicts held in the West.”

It is anticipated that Gershkovich will be transferred from Lefortovo Prison in Moscow to Yekaterinburg, about 900 miles east of Moscow, for the trial.

Gershkovich, who was captain of the PHS soccer team his senior year and led the team to a state championship, went on to Bowdoin College where he graduated with a degree in philosophy before moving to New York City to pursue a career in journalism.

He was a news assistant for the New York Times for nearly two years and worked as a news reporter for the Moscow Times before joining the WSJ in 2022.