Russian authorities arrest US journalist on ‘espionage’ charges

Russia on Thursday announced the arrest of a US journalist from the daily for “spying”. wall street journal, Ivan Gershkovich, an unprecedented case in the recent history of the country in terms of repression since the offensive against Ukraine. “The FSB foiled the illegal activity of the accredited correspondent of the Moscow office of the American newspaper (…) wall street journalIvan Gershkovich, a citizen of the United States of America,” the Russian Federal Security Service said in a statement cited by Russian agencies.

He is suspected of “spying for the benefit of the United States” and gathering information on “a Russian military-industrial complex company”. According to Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code, the offense is punishable by 10 to 20 years in prison. Before joining the US daily in 2022, Mr Gershkovich was a correspondent for AFP in Moscow and, before that, for the English-language newspaper Moscow Times, Fully Russian-speaking, the 31-year-old journalist is of Russian descent and his parents are settled in the United States.

Independent Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya, who heads the R.Politic Analysis Center, said Russia has recently tightened its laws against spying since its invasion of Ukraine. “The problem is that the new Russian law (…) puts anyone interested in military affairs, special military operations (as in Ukraine), private military groups (like Wagner), in army positions, in prison for 20 years. Lets pour in.” she wrote on Facebook. But analysts also note that the FSB was able to take the journalist “hostage” with a view to a possible exchange of prisoners.

exchange of prisoners

Russian-US exchanges have taken place a few times in recent years. Several US citizens are still in custody in Russia, including one, Paul Whelan, serving a 16-year prison sentence for “espionage” in a case that the individuals concerned and Washington consider fabricated. He was arrested in 2018 and talks have been going on for several years to get him released.

The 53-year-old ex-soldier has been suffering from health problems at the prison located in the Russian region of Mordovia, according to his family. The latest exchange between Moscow and Washington took place in December when Russia handed over American basketball player Brittney Griner, detained on drug-trafficking charges, in exchange for the release of arms smuggler Viktor Bout, who lives in the United States. Was imprisoned.

Another American currently being held in Russia is Mark Fogel, a former diplomat who worked as a teacher at an American school in Moscow. He was sentenced in June 2022 to fourteen years in prison for “large-scale” cannabis trafficking. Russian authorities claim to have found marijuana and hashish oil in his luggage during a customs check at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.

If journalists critical of the Russian press and the Kremlin are often the target of criminal proceedings in Russia, foreign journalists have been spared, with Moscow making a priority of expelling correspondents and tightening accreditation rules. Since the start of the Russian offensive against Ukraine, the Russian authorities have intensified repression of the opposition and independent media, generally using provisions of the criminal code punishing the fact of “defaming the military”.

At the same time, the conditions for issuing accreditation to foreign journalists, on which visas depend, have been tightened. Foreign journalists are also sometimes followed by security services during their reporting, especially outside Moscow. In this context, since the entry of Russian forces into Ukraine in February 2022, many Western media outlets have greatly reduced their presence in Russia.

(with AFP)



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