Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands in a glass cage in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 18, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Moscow: A Moscow court on Tuesday rejected an appeal from US journalist Evan Gershkovich to be freed from pre-trial detention, meaning he will stay in a former KGB prison until at least May 29 while a spying case against him is investigated.

Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, denies the espionage charges. He looked calm and smiled as he stood in a glass and metal cage before the appeal ruling, wearing a checked shirt with his arms folded in front of him.

His legal team asked that he be freed on bail of 50 million roubles ($614,000) supplied by Dow Jones or placed under house arrest, Tatiana Nozhkina, his lawyer, told reporters. The court, she said, rejected both suggestions.

“He’s in a combative mood,” Nozhkina told reporters outside the court. “He is ready to defend himself and to show that he is innocent.” Before the hearing got underway, Gershkovich turned around when one of the Russian reporters in the courtroom told him to “Stay Strong!” and relayed to him that everyone said “Hi”.

A masked man with “FSB” written on his black uniform stood beside the cage as the judge rejected the appeal. US Ambassador Lynne Tracy stood just metres away, watching the proceedings with a handful of foreign and Russian reporters who were admitted to the courtroom.

When asked by the judge if he needed translation, Gershkovich said in Russian that he understood everything. His lawyers said they would appeal the court’s decision.

State secrets

Russia’s FSB security service arrested Gershkovich on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges that carry a possible 20-year prison sentence for collecting what it said were state secrets about the military industrial complex.

The Kremlin has said Gershkovich, the first US journalist detained in Russia on espionage charges since the end of the Cold War, was caught “red-handed”.

The United States has deemed him “wrongfully detained,” his employer and colleagues have said he is innocent, and President Joe Biden has called his detention illegal.

“He is reading a lot in prison - Russian literature in the original Russian,” Nozhkina told Reuters, adding that he was reading Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece “War and Peace” about the 1812 French invasion of Russia.

Asked about the prison food, Nozhkina said Gershkovich was being given porridge in the mornings and that the food was normal.

Tuesday’s hearing was procedural, covering how Gershkovich should be detained, not the substance of the charges against him as investigators are still working on the details of the case.

Gershkovich, the son of Soviet emigres, is being held at the Lefortovo prison, which in Soviet times was run by the KGB but is now operated by the Federal Penitentiary Service.

Traditionally it has been used to hold those suspected of spying and other grave crimes.

US ambassador Tracy said on Monday she had made her first visit to Gershkovich.

“He feels well and is holding up. We reiterate our call for Evan’s immediate release,” Tracy said in a statement.