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WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich's jail sentence has been extended by a Russian court

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This Friday marks one year since American reporter Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich was detained by Russian security forces on espionage charges. Gershkovich and the Journal and the U.S. government all deny the allegations. But today a Russian court has extended his detention by another three months - joining us to talk about the case and the efforts to gain his release, NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hey, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Outline, if you would, how we got here. Like, what is the backstory of this case?

MAYNES: Yeah, sure. You know, Gershkovich was detained while on a reporting assignment for the Journal in the Ural Mountains in March of last year and later accused of trying to obtain state secrets. Gershkovich and the Journal, as you noted, immediately rejected the spying allegations. They said he was working in Russia with an official press accreditation from the Foreign Ministry. The U.S. government soon designated Gershkovich wrongfully detained. So they agree. Yet none of that's mattered. The Kremlin insists that Gershkovich was caught red-handed without providing any evidence. And so Gershkovich has been really stuck in Lefortovo Prison - this is a grim, Tsarist-era jail here in Moscow - awaiting trial. And his family and his lawyers say he's holding up well, in good spirits and reading a lot of Russian classic novels. But, of course, they want him free.

KELLY: Yeah. And today the opposite of that - he's been given three more months. So are we getting any closer to a trial date?

MAYNES: You know, we don't know. These are closed proceedings. There are, however, events to mark the anniversary, namely by celebrating Gershkovich's work. The Wall Street Journal will host a marathon reading of Evan's reporting by colleagues, friends and family beginning noon Wednesday - so tomorrow. But the larger issue is, of course, the legal case. And we saw another setback today. Here in Moscow, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy called the court's ruling particularly painful, noting Gershkovich had lost a year of his life to charges that she called fiction. She also accused Russia of holding Americans as pawns for political gain because Gershkovich isn't the only American currently in a Russian jail. In fact, he's not even the only journalist. Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian American who works for Radio Free Europe, is also in jail here on suspect charges.

KELLY: Well, and I'm thinking back to another American who was detained, Brittney Griner, the basketball star who was convicted on drug charges back in 2022. I know you covered her trial, but she was released in this controversial prisoner exchange. Is there anything like that in the works for Gershkovich?

MAYNES: Well, if the Griner case is any indication, Russia will want to see a conviction before any deals with the U.S. are possible. And, of course, Gershkovich's trial hasn't even begun. But that said, the Biden administration says it's made several offers to secure his release, along with that of another American, Paul Whelan, all to no avail. Yet Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is open to a swap, only he wants a better deal. In fact, when discussing Gershkovich's case in a much-discussed interview with Fox - former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, you might remember, last month, Putin was quite explicit in saying he wants the release of a suspected Russian assassin currently in jail for murder in Germany. But, of course, that's not up to the German government. That's up to the German government, not the U.S. And that's a separate set of negotiations whether Putin believes it or not.

KELLY: And just in a sentence or two, Charles, do we know how he is doing? What's his condition?

MAYNES: Well, from what we've been able to tell from his lawyers and from his family, he's in good spirits, holding up well and healthy - just has to wait this out.

KELLY: Yeah. NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "EXPERIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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