Prague-based journalist detained in Russia

Alsu Kurmasheva

Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva has been detained in Russia and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent. The Prague-based editor at Radio Free Europe’s Tatar-Bashkir service faces up to five years in jail if she is found guilty by the Russian courts.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a 47-year-old Russian-American dual citizen living in the Czech Republic, travelled to Russia on May 20 for a family emergency. But when she tried to return to Prague not quite two weeks later on June 2, she was temporarily detained at Kazan airport before her flight. Both her passports, U.S. and Russian, were confiscated, and she was later fined 10,000 rubles for failing to register her American passport with the Russian authorities, according to Reuters, who cited Russian court documents.

Since then, she has been in Russia awaiting the return of her passports. But she was not to be so lucky – new charges against her were announced on Wednesday. Citing Russian state media outlet Tatar-Inform, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that Kurmasheva stands accused of providing international authorities with "alternative analytical materials" as part of "information campaigns discrediting Russia" and having "deliberately conducted a targeted collection of military information about Russian activities via the Internet in order to transmit information to foreign sources".

Kurmasheva was being held at a temporary detention center as of Wednesday evening. The Russian human-rights news website OVD-Info told CPJ that Kurmasheva would "most likely" be transferred to pre-trial detention shortly. If she is found guilty, she could face up to five years in prison. Both her employer and the CPJ have called for her release.

RFE headquarters in Prague | Photo: Khalil Baalbaki,  Czech Radio

Kurmasheva, who has a husband and two children in Prague, joined the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is headquartered in Prague and Washington, in 1998. She covers ethnic minorities in the Russian provinces of Tatarstan and neighbouring Bashkortostan, especially efforts to preserve the Tatar language, while Russian authorities "have exerted increased pressure on Tatars in recent years", according to Radio Free Europe.

Kurmasheva is not the first Radio Free Europe or indeed Western journalist to have run afoul of the Russian authorities of late – according to the CPJ, seven Radio Free Europe journalists had their homes searched by police in Tatarstan last year. Her arrest also comes seven months after the detention of Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. reporter for The Wall Street Journal, who Russia accuses of spying – making him the first Western reporter to be jailed on spy charges in Russia since the Soviet era.

Gershkovich continued to report from Russia after the Kremlin launched its war in Ukraine, despite many Western journalists leaving the country. He was detained in March and a Moscow court rejected his appeal earlier this month, ordering him to be held at Moscow’s notorious Lefortovo prison until the end of November.

Russia has tightened its control over the media since the start of the Ukraine war, forcing the closure of leading independent news outlets and designating many journalists and publications as "foreign agents", the term used by Russia to label organisations and people deemed to be engaging in political activity with foreign support.

Author: Anna Fodor | Sources: Reuters , The Moscow Times
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