The White House said that the espionage charges against an American reporter who was arrested in Russia were “ridiculous”.
Evan Gershkovich, Wall Street Journal’s writer, was taken into custody in Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains. He is accused of trying to get classified information.
31-year-old Mr Gershkovich is the first American reporter to be charged with espionage in Russia since the Cold War.
Moscow’s most grave public action against foreign journalists since Russia invaded Ukraine is the arrest.
These espionage accusations are absurd. Karine Jean-Pierre, White House Press Secretary, stated that the Russian government’s targeting of American citizens was unacceptable.
She stated that there was no reason for the charges to be true and that Russia uses detaining Americans as a long-standing tactic.
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If convicted of spying, Mr Gershkovich could spend up to 20 years behind bars.
The Wall Street Journal stated that it was “deeply worried” about the safety of its reporter.
It stated that it “vehemently denied the allegations made by the FSB” and sought the immediate release our trusted and dedicated reporter Evan Gershkovich.
It added, “We stand in solidarity Evan and his family.”
Russia’s most powerful counter-intelligence and domestic security agency, the FSB, claimed that the journalist was gathering classified information about a military facility.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said that Mr Gershkovich was using journalistic credentials to cover “activities that have absolutely nothing to do with journalism”.
On Thursday, Mr Gershkovich was present in closed session at a Moscow court. He pleaded not guilty for spying.
According to court documents, the court ordered that he be kept in pre-trial custody from now until May 29, 2012.
According to the Kremlin, Mr Gershkovich was “red-handed”, but other Wall Street Journal journalists could continue their work as long as they are carrying out “normal journalistic activities”.
The arrest of Mr Gershkovich comes amid growing tensions between Moscow, Washington and the fighting in Ukraine.
Although the US Embassy in Moscow stated that it did not have any immediate comment, a US diplomatic source informed Reuters news agency that the embassy was not aware of the incident and was seeking clarification from Russian authorities.
According to the FSB, Mr Gershkovich was authorized by Russia’s foreign ministry to work as a journalist in Russia.
His last Moscow report, published earlier in the week, was focused on Russia’s slowdown due to Western sanctions imposed after Russian troops entered Ukraine last January.
On Thursday morning, the report, which Georgi Kantchev co-authored, was still available on the paper’s web site.
Since Nicholas Daniloff’s 1986 arrest of Nicholas Daniloff, Mr Gershkovich has been the first American journalist to be charged with espionage in Russia.
In a swap with an employee of the Soviet Union’s United Nations Mission who had been arrested by the FBI, Mr Daniloff was freed without charge 20 days later.
After 10 months in prison, American basketball star Brittney griner was released in December to exchange for Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer.
Moscow said that it was too soon to discuss a possible prisoner exchange for Mr Gershkovich.
Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, has been held in Russia since December 2018, on espionage accusations that Washington and his family claim are unfounded.