Russia has detained an American journalist and charged her with failing to register as a foreign agent on Thursday, the second U.S. journalist detained this year as Vladimir Putin continues to crack down on free speech and press freedoms while waging war against Ukraine.
Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual American-Russian citizen working as an editor for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was detained by authorities in Kazan, Russia, her employer said in a statement.
Kurmasheva has been charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent” and faces up to five years in prison if convicted, the U.S.-funded outlet said.
RFE/RL said Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague, Czechia, with her husband and two children, had traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May and was detained when trying to return in June for not registering her American passport with officials, for which she was fined.
The new charge was announced on October 18 when Kurmasheva was awaiting the return of her passports in order to leave Russia, RFE/RL said.
Since then, state news agency Tatar-Inform reports Kurmasheva has been held in a temporary detention center, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Kurmasheva will “most likely” be transferred to a pre-trial detention facility shortly to await trial, an unnamed representative for the Russian human-rights news website OVD-Info told CPJ.
Kurmasheva is the second American journalist to be detained in Russia this year. In March, Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich was detained and jailed on espionage charges, which he, the U.S. government and the Journal have all rejected. Gershkovich remains in Russian detention in Moscow and will remain behind bars through November after losing an appeal to be released. Officials have not made public the information motivating the spying charges and Moscow has not provided any evidence to back its claims. The U.S. government has declared the journalist to be wrongfully detained. His arrest is part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on foreign media, which has seen journalists working for foreign outlets expelled from the country.
Jeffrey Gedmin, acting president of RFE/RL, said Kurmasheva is a “highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother” and called on Russia to release her immediately. The outlet said Kurmasheva is an “accomplished journalist” who has a history covering ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in the Volga-Ural region of Russia, reporting on initiatives to “protect and preserve the Tatar language and culture from Russian authorities.” The region was one of many republics in Russia to maintain a degree of autonomy from the Kremlin after the fall of the Soviet Union that has faced increasing pressure from Putin’s nationalist drive to restore centralized control, sometimes through brutal means, that threatens the future of regional cultures and languages. The Russian state outlet Tatar-Info reported Kurmasheva had been collecting information on how Russian university educators were being mobilized into the army to potentially discredit Russia, according to the Times.
Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said the group is “deeply concerned” by Kurmasheva’s detention on “spurious criminal charges,” urging officials to drop them all and release her immediately. “Journalism is not a crime and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting,” Said said.
Dmitri Anisimov, a spokesman for OVD-Info, told the New York Times Kurmasheva’s case marks the first time Russia has arrested someone on charges of violating the foreign agents legislation.