Russian court extends detention of US journalist Kurmasheva until April

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

Russian-American journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Alsu Kurmasheva
Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on February 1, 2024 [Alexey Nasyrov/Reuters]

A court in Russia has extended the pre-trial detention of Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been in custody since October.

On Thursday, the court in the city of Kazan ruled that Kurmasheva must stay behind bars until April 5.

The Prague-based editor has been charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent” and spreading “false information” about Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, said her employer, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Funded by the United States Congress, RFE/RL is designated by Russia as a foreign agent, a charge levelled on the basis that it receives foreign funding for activity deemed to be political.

RFE/RL has reported that Kurmasheva could face a maximum combined sentence of 15 years in prison as it has called her detention unjust and politically motivated.

Airport arrest

Kurmasheva, who has both US and Russian passports, entered Russia in May to deal with a family emergency. She was initially detained on June 2 at an airport while awaiting her return flight, and her passports were confiscated.

According to court documents, the journalist was fined 10,000 roubles ($103) in October for failing to register her US passport with Russian authorities. She was subsequently slapped with the “foreign agent” charges and has been in custody since October 18.

In December, a state-affiliated media outlet said Russian investigators had opened a new case against Kurmasheva, accusing her of spreading false information about the Russian army.

Her husband, Pavel Butorin, who also works for RFE/RL, said that charge related to a book that she had edited.

He posted on X that while Thursday’s “unmerciful” ruling was “not unexpected”, it showed that “the spurious criminal charges brought against my wife are merely a pretext for Russia to continue holding her hostage as an American”.

‘Wrongfully detained’

Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested and charged in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

Evan Gershkovich, a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, was detained in March and is awaiting trial on spying charges that he, his newspaper and the US government strongly deny.

This week, a court in Moscow extended the pretrial detention of Gershkovich until the end of March, meaning the journalist will spend at least a year behind bars in Russia.

Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American convicted of spying in 2020 and jailed in Russia for 16 years, have been designated by the US government as “wrongfully detained”.

The designation means Washington considers the charges against them bogus and is committed to working for their release.

Kurmasheva’s supporters have been lobbying Washington for the same status for her.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies