A Moscow court ruled Thursday that Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich must stay in jail on espionage charges until the end of November, Russian state news agency Tass reported.
Gershkovich has been sitting in jail since the end of March when he was detained in the city of Yekaterinburg, almost 2,000km (1200 miles) east of Moscow, while on a reporting trip. The latest ruling means he faces spending at least eight months in prison.
Gershkovich, a 31-year-old U.S. citizen, arrived at the Moscow court Thursday in a white prison van and was led out handcuffed, wearing jeans, sneakers and a shirt. He appeared in court to hear the result of the prosecution’s motion to extend his arrest from Aug. 30.
Journalists outside the court were not allowed to witness the proceedings. Tass said the hearing was held behind closed doors because details of the criminal case are classified.
Russia’s Federal Security Service said Gershkovich, “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”
Gershkovich and his employer deny the allegations, and the U.S. government declared him to be wrongfully detained. His case has been wrapped in secrecy. Russian authorities haven’t detailed what — if any — evidence they have gathered to support the espionage charges.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal said in a statement: “Today, our colleague and distinguished journalist Evan Gershkovich appeared for a pre-trial hearing where his improper detention was extended yet again. We are deeply disappointed he continues to be arbitrarily and wrongfully detained for doing his job as a journalist. The baseless accusations against him are categorically false, and we continue to push for his immediate release. Journalism is not a crime.”
Earlier in August, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy made her third visit to Gershkovich and reported that he appeared to be in good health despite challenging circumstances. He is being held at Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, notorious for its harsh conditions.
Gershkovich is the first American reporter to face espionage charges in Russia since September 1986, when Nicholas Daniloff, a Moscow correspondent for U.S. News and World Report, was arrested by the KGB.
Analysts have pointed out that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips after U.S.-Russian tensions soared over the Kremlin’s military operation in Ukraine. At least two U.S. citizens arrested in Russia in recent years — including WNBA star Brittney Griner — have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the U.S.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has previously said it would consider a swap for Gershkovich only in the event of a verdict in his trial. In Russia, espionage trials can last for more than a year.