MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian court on Tuesday extended the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months in a closed-door hearing emblematic of the secrecy that has marked the case against the first United States correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying charges.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old American citizen, was ordered held until Aug. 30. He was arrested in March on espionage charges on a reporting trip in Russia. He, his employer and the U.S. government have denied the charges.
Tuesday’s pre-trial hearing wasn’t announced in advance, and the entire case has been wrapped in secrecy.
Russian authorities haven’t detailed what — if any — evidence they have gathered to support the espionage charges.
Various legal proceedings in the case have been closed to the media. No details immediately emerged about what was said at Tuesday’s hearing. State news agency Tass said the session was closed because the reporter was accused of possession of “secret materials.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday night that Gershkovich’s parents, Soviet emigres living in New Jersey, were visiting Moscow and saw their son during the short hearing.
“I don’t know how to describe this happiness and this sadness at the same time,” the newspaper quoted the reporter’s mother, Ella Milman, as saying. She said Gershkovich looked relaxed and well, and that they communicated through smiles.
The U.S. State Department said at least one U.S. Embassy official also attended the hearing.
Gershkovich’s arrest has rattled journalists in the country and drawn outrage in the West.
The U.S. government declared Gershkovich to be wrongfully detained and demanded his immediate release. He’s being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.
U.S. Embassy officials were allowed to visit Gershkovich once in prison since his arrest in Yekaterinburg on March 29, but Russian authorities have denied two more recent requests to see him.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington, “We once again call on Russia to comply with their obligation to provide consular access to him.” He added that the charges against Gershkovich “are baseless and we continue to call for his immediate release as well as for the immediate release of Paul Whelan.”
Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive, is serving a 16-year espionage sentence in a remote Russian prison. The retired U.S. Marine was detained in 2018. Whelan and Washington deny he spied in Russia.
The Biden administration had hoped to secure Whelan’s release during negotiations on a prisoner exchange that eventually freed American basketball star Brittney Griner from a Russian prison last December.
Analysts have pointed out that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips in soaring U.S.-Russian tensions over the Kremlin’s military operation in Ukraine.
In a statement after Tuesday’s hearing, the Wall Street Journal said: “While we expected there would be no change to Evan’s wrongful detention, we are deeply disappointed. The accusations are demonstrably false, and we continue to demand his immediate release.”