MOSCOW — Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was arrested in Russia almost two months ago and held on what the United States and the Journal say are baseless accusations of espionage, appeared at a court hearing on Tuesday to review the status of his pretrial detention, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.
The court, as expected, approved the Russian intelligence agency’s request to extend Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest by three months, to Aug. 30, Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
Mr. Gershkovich has been held at the Lefortovo jail since his arrest on March 29 during a reporting trip to the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. If convicted, Mr. Gershkovich would face up to 20 years in a Russian penal colony.
American diplomats had said it was almost certain that Mr. Gershkovich’s detention would be extended at the hearing and his application for bail denied. Even at the best of times, a pretrial investigation of an espionage case normally takes months, and a year may elapse before a verdict is reached.
Russian-American relations are in a state of acute tension over the war in Ukraine, a conflict that is still officially referred to in Russia as a “special military operation,” and President Vladimir V. Putin has embarked on a drive to suppress independent news outlets and free speech in general.
Before the arrest of the 31-year-old Mr. Gershkovich, no Western journalist had been charged with espionage in the country since the Cold War. At a hearing in a Moscow courtroom on April 18, journalists were allowed to enter and saw Mr. Gershkovich standing in a glass cage, red handcuff marks visible on his wrist. He flashed a smile and, through his lawyer, declared his determination to defend his right to work freely as an accredited journalist.
Mr. Putin has not hesitated to smother criticism of the war, making it punishable with long prison sentences and taking other measures. That has prompted an exodus of the war’s critics and of many Russians who are uneasy about their country’s direction.
Lefortovo jail is infamous for the near isolation and often harsh conditions imposed on its inmates. Mr. Gershkovich has been generally isolated, the diplomats said, but his lawyers have been allowed to see him regularly.
The Russian authorities have denied two requests from the American ambassador to Russia, Lynne M. Tracy to visit Mr. Gershkovich since she was allowed to see him under intense Russian scrutiny on April 17.
Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, has said that Mr. Gershkovich was caught “red-handed,” but has not elaborated. Russia has not offered any evidence to support the accusation of espionage against a journalist known for his deep knowledge of the country and his dogged reporting.
The United States government, the Journal, numerous colleagues, groups supporting press freedom and prominent international officials have all condemned Mr. Gershkovich’s detention. They have vehemently denied the accusations made against him.
The Biden administration has asserted that Mr. Gershkovich is “wrongfully detained” — an official determination that effectively says the United States views him as a political hostage and opens the way for a wide range of steps to secure his release. The White House has called for his immediate release.
A prisoner exchange, such as the one that secured the release of Brittney Griner, an American basketball star, late last year, would not take place until after a verdict is reached in the case, Russian officials have said. However, the Biden administration is known to be working to secure an early release.
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