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Russia Seeks 18 Years for Reporter     07/19 06:07

   

   YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) -- Russian prosecutors sought a prison sentence 
of 18 years on Friday for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is 
on trial on espionage charges that his employer and the U.S. have denounced as 
fabricated.

   Gershkovich, 32, was arrested March 29, 2023, while on a reporting trip to 
the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. Authorities claimed, without offering 
any evidence, that he was gathering secret information for the U.S. He pleaded 
not guilty, according to the court, and The Wall Street Journal and the U.S. 
government have called the trial a sham.

   Gershkovich appeared in court for a second straight day Friday as the 
closed-door proceedings in Russia's highly politicized legal system picked up 
speed. A verdict is expected later in the day, according to court officials.

   Unlike previous sessions in which reporters were allowed to see Gershkovich 
briefly before sessions began, there was no access to the courtroom this week 
and he was not seen, with no explanation given. Espionage and treason cases are 
typically shrouded in secrecy.

   Court officials said the prosecutors requested an 18-year sentence in a 
high-security prison during closing arguments. Russian courts convict more than 
99% of defendants, and prosecutors can appeal sentences that they regard as too 
lenient. They even can appeal acquittals.

   "Evan's wrongful detention has been an outrage since his unjust arrest 477 
days ago, and it must end now," the Journal said Thursday in a statement. "Even 
as Russia orchestrates its shameful sham trial, we continue to do everything we 
can to push for Evan's immediate release and to state unequivocally: Evan was 
doing his job as a journalist, and journalism is not a crime. Bring him home 
now."

   The U.S. State Department has declared Gershkovich "wrongfully detained," 
committing the government to assertively seek his release.

   Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday at the United Nations 
that Moscow and Washington's "special services" are discussing an exchange 
involving Gershkovich. Russia has previously signaled the possibility of a 
swap, but it says a verdict would have to come first. Even after a verdict, any 
such deal could take months or years.

   State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel on Thursday declined to 
discuss negotiations about a possible exchange, but said: "We have been clear 
from the get-go that Evan did nothing wrong and should not have been detained. 
To date, Russia has provided no evidence of a crime and has failed to justify 
Evan's continued detention."

   Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted earlier this year that he would be 
open to swapping Gershkovich for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian serving a life 
sentence for the 2019 killing in Berlin of a Georgian citizen of Chechen 
descent.

   Gershkovich's trial began June 26 in Yekaterinburg after he spent about 15 
months in Moscow's notorious Lefortovo Prison.

   The Russian Prosecutor General's office said last month the journalist is 
accused of "gathering secret information" on orders from the CIA about 
Uralvagonzavod, a plant about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north of Yekaterinburg 
that produces and repairs tanks and other military equipment.

   Lavrov on Wednesday reaffirmed the Kremlin claim that the government has 
"irrefutable evidence" against Gershkovich, although neither he nor any other 
Russian official has ever disclosed it.

   Gershkovich's employer and U.S. officials have dismissed the charges as 
phony.

   "Evan has never been employed by the United States government. Evan is not a 
spy. Journalism is not a crime. And Evan should never have been detained in the 
first place," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said last 
month.

   Russia's interpretation of what constitutes high crimes like espionage and 
treason is broad, with authorities often going after people who share publicly 
available information with foreigners and accusing them of divulging state 
secrets.

   Earlier this month, U.N. human rights experts said Russia violated 
international law by jailing Gershkovich and should release him "immediately."

   Arrests of Americans are increasingly common in Russia, with nine U.S. 
citizens known to be detained there as tensions between the two countries have 
escalated over fighting in Ukraine.

   U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow of 
treating "human beings as bargaining chips." She singled out Gershkovich and 
ex-Marine Paul Whelan, 53, a corporate security director from Michigan, who is 
serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted on spying charges that he and 
the U.S. denied.

 
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