U.S. Ambassador Meets With Detained Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich

From a Wall Street Journal story by Ann M. Simmons headlined “U.S. Ambassador Meets With Detained Wall Street Journal Reporter Evan Gershkovich”:

The U.S. ambassador to Russia was granted access to jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Monday in the second such visit since his detention in March, following weeks of repeated U.S. requests to meet with him.

Lynne Tracy’s visit to Gershkovich at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison comes a little over a week after a court upheld a request from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, to extend the reporter’s detention to at least Aug. 30 while he awaits trial. Gershkovich’s lawyers had appealed the FSB’s request.

“Ambassador Tracy reports that Mr. Gershkovich is in good health and remains strong, despite his circumstances,” the State Department said in a statement. “U.S. Embassy officials will continue to provide all appropriate support to Mr. Gershkovich and his family, and we expect Russian authorities to provide continued consular access.”

The infrequency of consular access to Gershkovich has been a growing point of contention between Washington and Moscow. The U.S. has often accused Russia of ignoring international law in delaying or depriving jailed Americans of diplomatic access.

Gershkovich, a 31-year-old American citizen who was accredited by Russia’s Foreign Ministry to work as a journalist, was detained by agents from the FSB while on a reporting trip in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg on March 29. He is being held on an allegation of espionage that he, the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Washington has said Gershkovich isn’t a spy and has never worked for the government.

The ambassador visited Gershkovich for the first time in April, a day before a court in the Russian capital denied his lawyers’ appeal that he be transferred to house arrest, agree to constraints on his movements or be granted bail. His pretrial detention was initially set to expire on May 29.

The Russian government denied requests for further consular visits to Gershkovich in April and May, in return for the U.S. denying visas to Russian journalists wanting to travel to New York.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that the U.S. has continued to seek consular access to Gershkovich “virtually every day.”

He said that in addition to seeking access to meet with the reporter, “we are continuing to explore ways to bring him home—Paul Whelan as well—and many other Americans who are being detained in different parts of the world in an arbitrary fashion.”

“We’ve brought a lot of Americans home over the last two and a half years,” he added. “And Evan is front and center in our thinking.”

The 1963 Vienna Convention signed by both the U.S. and Russia allows states consular access to their nationals who are arrested or detained in other states.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has said access to Gershkovich and other American detainees—including Whelan, a businessman who in 2020 was sentenced to 16 years in prison on an espionage conviction—would be provided under standard Russian procedures. Whelan and his family have continued to proclaim his innocence, according to his brother, who has been actively campaigning for his release.

Before Monday’s visit, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said Moscow had received a request for consular access to Gershkovich and was reviewing it.

The U.S. government has classified Gershkovich, the first American journalist arrested on an espionage accusation in Russia since the end of the Cold War, as wrongfully detained and called for his immediate release. The designation, which the government has also applied to Whelan, unlocked a broad U.S. government effort to exert pressure on Russia to free the two men.

“Both men deserve to go home to their families now,” the State Department said in its statement Monday.

Legal experts say it could be many months before Gershkovich’s case is brought to trial, as investigators gather materials to present before the judge. Under Russian law, investigators and prosecutors have wide latitude to request further extensions of pretrial detention. Espionage trials are typically conducted in secret, as in most countries, and conviction carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years. It is rare for a court to acquit a defendant.

Gershkovich’s case has garnered international attention and bipartisan support in the U.S. House of Representatives, which in June voted unanimously to approve a resolution calling on Russia to immediately free Gershkovich and demanding that Moscow provide the reporter unconstrained access to U.S. consular officials during his imprisonment.

Nearly three dozen U.S. senators wrote a letter to Gershkovich in June, expressing their “profound anger and concern” over his detention by the Russian government.

U.S. officials say they are engaging with countries that hold Russian citizens in custody and are open to incorporating those prisoners in a deal to free Gershkovich and other Americans detained in Russia.

Russian officials have hinted at the possibility of a deal but said that any consideration of a swap involving Gershkovich would have to wait until a court issues a verdict in his case.

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