Russia Detains RFE/RL U.S.-Russian Journalist

Published: 20 October 2023

Alsu Kurmasheva RFE RL

Russian authorities detained RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva for not declaring herself as a "foreign agent". (Photo: Pangea Graphics, RFE/RL)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Russian authorities have detained a Russian-American journalist who works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and accused her of failing to declare herself as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison in Russia.

RFE/RL confirmed this development, stating that Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, was detained by authorities in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan, in southwestern Russia.

"Alsu is a highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother to two children," emphasized RFE/RL acting President Dr. Jeffrey Gedmin, stressing the urgency of her release so she can return to her family immediately.

Kurmasheva, who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship and resides in Prague, Czech Republic, with her husband and children, had flown to Russia in May due to a family emergency. She was reportedly temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2, with Kazan airport police confiscating her passports and fining her for not registering her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

RFE/RL reported that on October 18, a new charge emerged against Kurmasheva while she was still waiting for the return of her passports.

According to Tatarstan state news agency Tatar-inform, investigators alleged that, as the editor of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir service, Kurmasheva purposely collected military information about Russian activities via the internet in September 2022, intending to transmit it to foreign sources.

The report also claimed that she gathered information about teachers from a Tatarstan university who had been mobilized into the army and used this information to create "alternative analytical materials" for foreign agencies.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York and dedicated to promoting press freedom and defending journalists' rights, expressed deep concern about Kurmasheva's detention and urged Russian authorities to release her immediately.

"CPJ is deeply concerned by the detention of U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva on spurious criminal charges and calls on Russian authorities to release her immediately and drop all charges against her," stated Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

A colleague of Kurmasheva, speaking anonymously to CPJ out of fear of retaliation, noted that she was detained solely because of her work for RFE/RL and that every independent journalist in Russia faces similar risks.

"Journalism is not a crime, and Kurmasheva's detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting," Gulnoza Said added.

CPJ also highlighted that Kurmasheva is the second American journalist detained by Russia, following the detention of Wall Street Journal writer Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March of the same year.

Russia's Foreign Agents Law, passed in 2012, has been used more frequently by Russian authorities since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The law has become a popular tool to target government critics, civil society organizations, media outlets, independent journalists, activists, and anyone receiving foreign financing deemed to be under foreign control.