(Moscow, Russia) American journalist Evan Gershkovich, arrested in Russia last week, was formally charged with “espionage” on Friday, a charge he “categorically denies”, Russian news agencies reported.

According to Interfax, Mr. Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal correspondent who also worked for AFP in the past, is being prosecuted on the basis of article 276 of the Russian penal code, a charge punishable by 20 years in prison. .

Authorities have “charged Gershkovich with spying on behalf of his country. He categorically denied all charges and said his activities in Russia were journalistic,” TASS reported, citing an unnamed source within the security forces.

This indictment paves the way for a trial, the date of which has not yet been announced.

The reporter was arrested last week by Russian security services (FSB) while reporting from Yekaterinburg in the Urals. Authorities accused him of gathering information on the defense industry, among other things.

The United States and the Wall Street Journal have dismissed the espionage charges and called on the Kremlin to release the 31-year-old journalist, who is a US citizen of Russian descent.

At the same time, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the US Senate on Friday urged the “immediate” release of the journalist.

“We strongly condemn the arbitrary detention of this American citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter,” Democrat Chuck Schumer and Republican Mitch McConnell wrote in a rare joint statement.

The two tenors of Congress demanded the “immediate release of this independent journalist, respected throughout the world”.

The Wall Street Journal and the reporter, respected by his colleagues for his thoroughness, deny the accusations against him. US President Joe Biden has called for his release.

His arrest comes in a context of increased repression in Russia against the press since the offensive against Ukraine, which has greatly strained relations between Moscow and Washington.

It also follows an exchange in December between American basketball star Brittney Griner, who was in custody in Russia, and Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, a prisoner in the United States.

Washington has repeatedly accused Moscow of arbitrarily arresting Americans to use as bargaining chips and recover Russians detained in the United States.