Russian prison watchdog claims jailed US journalist ‘cheerful’ and doing well

Russian prison watchdog claims jailed US journalist ‘cheerful’ and doing well
Опубликовано: Monday, 03 April 2023 19:22

The White House has slammed Moscow’s espionage charges against the American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

MOSCOW — Jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich is “cheerful” and doing well as he sits in pre-trial detention, a Russian prison watchdog claimed Monday — the first report on his condition since his arrest on espionage charges.

“At the time of my visit, he was cheerful, there were a lot of jokes during our conversation,” Alexei Melnikov, a member of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (ONK), wrote in a post on Telegram late Monday.

Melnikov is the first outsider to have been granted access to the American journalist since his arrest last Wednesday while on an assignment in Yekaterinburg, accused of collecting classified information on a defense company for “the American side.”

No other foreign journalist has been arrested in Russia since the Cold War, and Gershkovich’s case marks a new low for the increasingly fraught relationship between Russia and the United States. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has claimed without evidence that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed,” while the White House has dismissed the case as “ridiculous.” Gershkovich’s employer, the Wall Street Journal, has called the allegations “utter nonsense.”

If found guilty of spying, Gershkovich faces a sentence of 20 years in a penal colony.

The journalist is currently being held alone in a two-person cell while undergoing a period of quarantine to rule out coronavirus infection, according to Melnikov, whose ONK was set up as an independent prison monitoring group, though in recent years it has been purged of its most vocal and Kremlin-critical members.

Melnikov said the cell contains a television with 20 channels, as well as a radio and a fridge. “Meals meet the established standards. Yesterday, for example, for lunch there was cabbage soup, potatoes and chicken, and for breakfast there was porridge,” Melnikov said.

Gershkovich has also been allowed to go for daily walks, according to Melnikov, adding that the journalist had not expressed any complaints and was reading Vasily Grossman’s novel “Life and Fate” from the prison’s library.

The reporter is set to be held in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo prison pending trial until May 29.

Cases of espionage and treason, their domestic equivalent, are conducted under a veil of secrecy, sheltering them from public scrutiny.

But the general assumption among independent Russia experts is that Gershkovich is being used to boost Russia’s negotiating position in a possible future prisoner swap for Russian citizens jailed in the United States.

In December, American basketball player Brittney Griner, jailed in Russia on drug charges, was exchanged for arms dealer Viktor Bout. Though hailed by Griner’s supporters, the deal brokered by Joe Biden’s administration also drew criticism for potentially encouraging Russia to use American citizens as a negotiating tool.

Earlier on Monday, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the government was “pushing hard” for Gershkovich’s release and was following the case closely.

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