Russian court extends detention of US journalist Kurmasheva until February

Russian-American journalist is accused of failing to register as a ‘foreign agent’.

Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on December 1, 2023 [Alexey Nasyrov/Reuters]

A court in Russia has extended the pre-trial detention of Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until February.

Kurmasheva, an editor for the United States government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tatar-Bashkir service, has been accused of failing to register as a “foreign agent” and collecting information on the Russian military, according to state-run media. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison.

On Friday, a court in Kazan ruled that Kurmasheva – who holds both US and Russian passports – must be held until February 5, according to RFE/RL and the Reuters news agency.

Press freedom groups and independent journalists have denounced Russia’s targeting of media members, which they say has intensified since it invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

This week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent, New York-based non-profit that advocates for media workers around the world, and other press freedom groups, wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to urge him to declare that Kurmasheva has been wrongfully detained by the Russian government.

“Our understanding is that Russia has not officially notified the [US] State Department of her detention,” the letter said, adding that the US “should not delay its own process due to what appears to be a stalling tactic. We are deeply concerned this has resulted in Alsu not receiving any regular consular visits yet.”

The appeal also noted “concerns about Moscow’s growing pattern of unjustly detaining journalists”, including that of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich on “espionage” charges.

The State Department should “update the ‘outmoded requirements’ for designating wrongful detentions in the event that more journalists are detained and held hostage by foreign governments in the future. Such a designation brings with it heightened department resources for securing the American individual’s freedom”, according to the letter.

Kurmasheva’s case

Kurmasheva, who is based at RFE/RL’s headquarters in the Czech capital, Prague, travelled to Russia for a family emergency on May 20, her media outlet said in a statement.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 and the authorities at Kazan airport confiscated both her passports.

She was then fined 10,000 roubles ($111) on October 11, according to court documents, for failure to register her US passport with Russian authorities.

Kurmasheva was awaiting the return of her passports when she was charged on October 18, RFE/RL said.

Russia told RFE/RL to declare itself as a foreign agent in 2017 but the media organisation has contested Moscow’s application of foreign agent laws in the European Court of Human Rights.

Since 2012, Russia has used “foreign agent” laws to punish perceived government critics who receive funding from abroad or are deemed to be “under foreign influence,” including civil society groups, media outlets, independent journalists, and activists, RFE/RL said.

Kurmasheva is the second American journalist to face charges in Russia this year, following the arrest in March of Gershkovich.

Gershkovich, who is being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, is the first American charged with spying in Russia since the end of the Cold War. His lawyers, the WSJ, and the White House have dismissed the allegations, with the US government blaming Russia for “harassing US citizens”.

In a closed-door hearing on Tuesday, a court in Moscow extended Gershkovich’s detention until January 30, as he awaits trial on the espionage charges.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies