MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. reporter Evan Gershkovich had his pre-trial detention extended by three months by a Russian court on Thursday, Interfax reported, on charges of espionage that he denies.
The Moscow court extended the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter to Nov. 30 from Aug. 30. Gershkovich was present at the hearing.
Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on spying charges that carry up to 20 years in prison.
His newspaper has emphatically rejected the charge and the United States has accused Russia of conducting "hostage diplomacy", at a time when bilateral relations are at their lowest point for more than 60 years due to Moscow's actions in Ukraine.
The FSB security service said Gershkovich was collecting information about a Russian defence company that was a state secret. The Kremlin said he was caught "red-handed" but has provided no detail to support the assertion. The White House has called the charges "ridiculous" and President Joe Biden has said Gershkovich's detention is "totally illegal". No date has been set for a trial. Gershkovich has so far failed in two appeals, in April and June, against his pre-trial detention in Moscow's Lefortovo prison, where suspects accused by the KGB security service were held in Soviet times.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy has been allowed to visit him in prison only three times, most recently on Aug. 14, in the nearly five months since he was arrested. Russia has said that any prisoner exchange could only be considered after a court verdict, and via a special channel handled by the security services.
It has agreed to high-profile swaps in the past, most recently in December 2022 when it traded Brittney Griner, a U.S. basketball star convicted of a drugs offence in Russia for Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
Washington has pledged to do "whatever it takes" to bring home Gershkovich and ex-Marine Paul Whelan, convicted of espionage in 2020 and serving 16 years in a Russian penal colony on spying charges that he too denies.
"Once again, we call for Russia to immediately release Evan and also to release wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Paul Whelan," a State Department spokesperson said by email. "Our efforts to secure their release are ongoing."
The United States has designated both men as "wrongfully detained", meaning that it considers the charges against them to be bogus and politically motivated.
(Writing by Mark Trevelyan and Felix Light; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and Daniel Wallis)