Monday marked the 250th day that Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has been in custody in Moscow on an espionage charge that he, his newspaper and the U.S. government have vehemently denied, and a lawyer who has worked on similar cases said that Mr. Gershkovich’s time in detention will likely last much longer.
The lawyer, Ivan Pavlov, who has worked on a number of high-profile treason and espionage cases in Russia, said that they usually take years to complete.
“It usually takes up to 1.5 years for the preliminary investigation to complete its tedious examination before such cases get transferred to a court for hearing,” said Mr. Pavlov, who had to flee Russia after a criminal case was opened against him.
The hearing, which will likely take place in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where Mr. Gershkovich was first detained, Mr. Pavlov said, would take up to six months to complete. If he is convicted, Mr. Gershkovich’s lawyers could file an appeal.
Little has been uncovered about the nature of the espionage charges against Mr. Gershkovich.
The Russian authorities have suggested that they could be open to a prisoner swap for Mr. Gershkovich, but only after a verdict is delivered in his case.
Mr. Gershkovich’s detention changed the security calculus for many international media outlets working in Russia, according to Emma Tucker, The Journal’s editor in chief, who said in a letter to readers on Monday that his prosecution in Russia showed how President Vladimir V. Putin’s “clampdown on independent media extended to the foreign press.”
“The concept of a free press — the underpinning of a free society — has been singularly challenged,” Ms. Tucker said.
Mr. Gershkovich, 32, has been held in the notoriously strict Lefortovo Prison in Moscow since his arrest on March 29 during a reporting trip to Yekaterinburg. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in a Russian penal colony.
Last week, a court in Moscow extended Mr. Gershkovich’s detention until Jan. 30; it was the third time that it has been extended.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which had representatives at the hearing, said it was “deeply concerned” by the decision. “We reiterate our call on Evan’s immediate release,” it said in a statement on Telegram.
The arrest of Mr. Gershkovich on a spying charge was the first of an American journalist since the end of the Cold War, underscoring the extent to which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has damaged relations between Moscow and Washington.
The U.S. government has designated Mr. Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained,” which effectively means that the American government considers him a political prisoner.
Other Americans detained in Russia who have received this designation include the basketball star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug trafficking charges and released in December in a prisoner exchange, and Paul Whelan, a former Marine and corporate executive who is serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges that the United States calls politically motivated.
In October, the Russian authorities detained Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, an American broadcaster funded by the U.S. government. Ms. Kurmasheva, who holds both Russian and American citizenship, was charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent.”