A journalist with dual citizenship in the United States and Russia who works for a media outlet that receives funding from the United States has reportedly been detained in Russia on suspicion of failing to register as a foreign agent.
Russian American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, the editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has become this year’s second American journalist to be detained in Russia. Journalist Evan Gershkovich of the Wall Street Journal was imprisoned on espionage-related accusations in March.
Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service, is currently being held in a detention facility, according to a Russian state news outlet, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was seen being carried into an administrative facility by four guys, two of whom were holding her arms and wearing balaclavas, which are face-covering ski mask-type clothes, according to a video posted by the Tatar-Inform agency.
According to Tatar-Inform, officials accused Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva of obtaining information about university academics enlisted in the Russian military with the goal to share it with foreign organizations. This accusation suggests that she received information about Russian military conscription of professors.
She was accused of violating laws against unregistered foreign agents while gathering data on Russian military activity, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Local authorities claim that the information gathered could jeopardize the security of the Russian Federation.
According to the New York-based press freedom group, Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva may be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty.
“Alsu is a highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother to two children,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty Acting President Jeffrey Gedmin said. “She needs to be released so she can return to her family immediately.”
RFE/RL reports that Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague with her family, was delayed at Kazan International Airport on June 2 after traveling to Russia on May 20 for a family emergency.
Kurmasheva was fined for not registering her American passport with Russian authorities, which led to the airport authorities seizing both her Russian and American passports. On Wednesday, a new accusation of failing to register as a foreign agent was made public while she awaited the return of her passports, according to RFE/RL.
Russian authorities asked RFE/RL to formally register as a foreign agency in December 2017. RFE/RL responded by filing a complaint at the European Court of Human Rights in 2021 against the fines imposed on the group as a result of Russia’s implementation of the legislation governing foreign agents.
Kurmasheva’s employer said she covered ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan within Russia, focusing on initiatives meant to preserve and uphold the Tatar language and culture, even in the face of increased pressure applied by Russian authorities to the Tatar population.
Experts have noted that Moscow may be using imprisoned Americans as negotiation chips, particularly in the wake of the rise in hostilities between the US and Russia after Russia sent soldiers into Ukraine. At least two American citizens have been detained in Russia in recent years; one of them is WNBA star Brittney Griner. They have been exchanged for Russians who are detained in the US.
“Journalism is not a crime, and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting,” Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said.
Kurmasheva was taken into custody seven months after Gershkovich was imprisoned in Yekaterinburg, Russia, some 1,200 miles east of Moscow. Since being detained, Gershkovich has appeared in court multiple times, but he has not been successful in getting his continued detention overturned.
According to the Russian Federal Security Service, Gershkovich allegedly obtained sensitive information about a Russian military-industrial complex company under the direction of American officials.
The U.S. government has said that Gershkovich’s arrest is unfair, and he as well as the Journal deny these allegations. The accusations of espionage have been made without any support from Russian officials. Prosecutors contend that the contents of the case come under the category of sensitive information, so court proceedings against him are kept private.
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