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U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, accused of espionage, smiles from inside a glass defendants' cage prior to a hearing in Yekaterinburg's Sverdlovsk Regional Court on June 26, 2024. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)
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The trial for jailed U.S. journalist Evan Gershkovich, who has been in pre-trial detention in Russia for more than a year on espionage charges, began in Yekaterinburg on June 26.

Since the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and subsequent crackdown on civil rights, a growing number of U.S. and other Western citizens have been jailed in Russia on dubious charges.

Gershkovich was arrested in Yekaterinburg in late March 2023 while working on a story about the Wagner mercenary group's recruiting methods, as well as Russian citizens' views on the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He was jailed without charges for over 14 months as authorities repeatedly extended his pre-trial detention.

Russia formally accused Gershkovich of spying for the CIA and finalized his indictment on June 13, announcing that he would finally go to trial. Russian authorities have not publicly released any evidence to support the charges.

Gershkovich appeared in court with his head shaved as the trial began. His employer, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), called the court proceedings "secret," as no independent reporters, friends, family members, or embassy staff will be allowed inside the courtroom.

The trial is expected to last months, and as acquittals in Russia are rare, it is expected to result in a guilty verdict. If convicted, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in prison.

The day before, WSJ's editor-in-chief Emma Tucker published a letter criticizing the trial as a "travesty of justice" and said, "we already know the conclusion."

"This bogus accusation of espionage will inevitably lead to a bogus conviction for an innocent man who would then face up to 20 years in prison for simply doing his job."

U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller also commented on the trial on June 25, saying that he did not "expect a free and fair trial, given that these are charges that never should have been brought in the first place."

Miller said that the U.S. would continue to "do everything we can to try to bring" him and other jailed U.S. citizens home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in December 2023 that he would be open to negotiating the return of jailed U.S. citizens, including Gershkovich, under "mutually acceptable" conditions.

Russia has also jailed Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who has dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, on charges of failing to identify as a foreign agent. Kurmasheva has been in pre-trial detention since October 2023.

Earlier in June, the trial of Ksenia Karelina, who also has dual Russian and U.S. citizenship, began in Yekaterinburg. Karelina has been charged with treason on the grounds that she donated $51.80 to the nonprofit organization Razom for Ukraine.

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