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Wall Street Journal reporter’s trial starts in Russia 

A journalist from the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is now facing a trial in Yekaterinburg, a thousand miles from Moscow, where he was apprehended on espionage charges during an assignment.

Evan Gershkovich has been confined in a Moscow jail for nearly fifteen months. Prosecutors claim that the American journalist was gathering classified information about a Russian tank manufacturer near Yekaterinburg for the CIA. The WSJ has accused Moscow of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips for Russians held abroad.

Among the Americans currently imprisoned in Russia is former Marine Paul Whelan, who was convicted of espionage in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony. 

Whelan staunchly denies any wrongdoing, and US officials have officially labelled him as “wrongfully detained,” similar to Gershkovich. 

Last year, Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was also arrested in Russia. Holding both American and Russian citizenship, she was detained while visiting her sick mother and charged with disseminating “false information” about the Russian military in a book she helped edit, which criticised Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. If found guilty, she faces up to 15 years in prison.

Other Americans imprisoned in Russia include Mark Fogel, a former teacher at the now-closed Anglo-American School of Moscow, who is serving a 14-year sentence for drug smuggling after 17 grams of marijuana were found in his luggage. He claims the drug was for medical use. 

Additionally, Gordon Black, a US staff sergeant, was sentenced to three years and nine months in a penal colony in Vladivostok for theft and threatening to kill his girlfriend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hinted at a potential prisoner exchange regarding Gershkovich. Although he hasn’t specified names, Putin referenced the case of Vadim Krasikov, believed to be a Russian agent serving a life sentence for murder in Germany. 

The Kremlin is aware that the US negotiates to repatriate its citizens, as demonstrated in 2022 when the US exchanged convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for American basketball star Brittney Griner, who had been jailed in Russia on drug charges.

Gershkovich, his employer, and the US government adamantly deny the espionage charges. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison. The duration of Gershkovich’s trial remains uncertain, as does the length of his stay in a Russian prison.

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