Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has been detained in Russia and accused of espionage, according to Russian state-run agencies.

 In a statement, Russian security services were cited as saying: “The Federal Security Service (FSB) halted the illegal activities of US citizen Evan Gershkovich... a correspondent of the Moscow bureau of the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal, accredited with the Russian foreign ministry, suspected of spying in the interests of the American government.”

Guardian reporter Pjotr Sauer called the charges ‘obviously bogus’ and called for Gershkovich’s immediate release. 

 "The Wall Street Journal is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Gershkovich," the newspaper said in a statement. 

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Before joining The Wall Street Journal, 31-year-old Gershkovich worked for AFP in Moscow. He was previously a reporter for The Moscow Times, an English-language news website. Gershkovich speaks Russian. His parents live in the United States but are originally from the Soviet Union.

"The problem is... the fact that the way the FSB interprets espionage today means that anyone who is simply interested in military affairs can be imprisoned for 20 years," Russian political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said on social media in response to the detention.

Several US citizens are currently in detention in Russia and both Washington and Moscow have accused the other of carrying out politically-motivated arrests.

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The FSB in January opened a criminal case against a US citizen it said was suspected of espionage but did not name the individual. Paul Whelan, a former US Marine, was arrested in Russia in 2018 and handed a 16-year sentence on espionage charges.

He is detained in a penal colony south of Moscow. The US says he was a private citizen visiting Moscow on personal business and has demanded his release.

There have been several high-profile prisoner exchanges between Moscow and Washington over the past year. In December, Moscow freed US basketball star Brittney Griner – arrested for bringing cannabis oil into the country – in exchange for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

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Russian authorities have also used espionage charges against Russian journalists. Last year, Russia jailed a respected defence reporter, Ivan Safronov, for 22 years on treason charges.

Safronov worked for business newspapers Kommersant and was one of Russia's most prominent journalists covering defence. Gershkovich's arrest comes as Western journalists in Russia face increasing restrictions.

Staff of Western media outlets often report being tailed, particularly during trips outside of major urban hubs of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Many Russians fear speaking to foreign media, due to strict censorship laws adopted in the wake of the Ukraine offensive.

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