Secret Russian trial begins for American reporter Evan Gershkovich

Gershkovich's friends remain skeptical he can receive a fair trial in Russia.
Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom
Posted at 4:09 PM, Jun 26, 2024

American journalist Evan Gerskovich's secret trial on charges of spying began Wednesday in the eastern Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where he was initially arrested 15 months ago.

Gershkovich, his employer, The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. government all deny the espionage charges he is facing. Russian authorities allege he was acting on CIA instructions to collect secret defense and military information.

No one from the outside is allowed into the court proceedings. U.S. Embassy staff were on hand outside the courtroom prior to the start of the trial today, and in a statement released afterward said, "During this time, Russian authorities have failed to provide any evidence supporting the charges against him, failed to justify his continued detention, and failed to explain why Evan's work as a journalist constitutes a crime."

Gershkovich's appearance was different than in previous Russian court appearances. He was inside the glass enclosure in the courtroom known as "the aquarium," but unlike in his other court appearances, his head was shaved.

Friends of his believe that is Russia's way of trying to make him look like a criminal.

In a call Wednesday morning, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the trial was a "sham" and said that Gershkovich has never worked for the U.S. government.

Related Story: Russia extends arrest of US reporter Evan Gershkovich

Gershkovich's friends remain skeptical that he can receive a fair trial in Russia.

"We're not holding our breath. It could take weeks or months and we don't have much trust in the Russian justice system," said his friend, Pjotr Sauer. "Realistically we believe that Russia will convict him because they arrested him in the end because he's a bargaining chip for Moscow, for Putin, to be exchanged."

Meanwhile, Gershkovich's family also put out a statement as the trial got underway, and said, "These past 15 months have been extraordinarily painful for Evan and for our family. We miss our son and just want him home. We're deeply disappointed that he will have to endure further attempts to discredit him and to paint a picture that is unrecognizable to anyone who knows him. Evan is a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. We urge the U.S. government to continue to do everything possible to bring Evan home now."

Gershkovich's trial is set to resume on Aug. 13.

Up until now, he had been held in Moscow, but for his trial, he was transferred nearly 900 miles away to the eastern Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where he was initially arrested 15 months ago.

The Kremlin has said they are currently talking to U.S. officials about a potential prisoner exchange.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has suggested that an exchange could involve Vadim Krasikov, a Russian security services agent who was convicted in Germany of murdering a former Chechen soldier there.

So far, the U.S. has remained silent on any negotiations, though the State Department said they are working to bring Gershkovich and other Americans held in Russia back home.