Russian-American journailst denied release, faces lengthy sentence in Russia

Written by Jeppe W

Oct.23 - 2023 2:34 PM CET

News Photo: Shutterstock

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In a recent, unsettling development, Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist and editor for Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), finds herself facing a potential lengthy prison sentence in Russia. The news broke in a statement from her employer.

Last week, Kurmasheva was taken into custody, accused of failing to register as a foreign agent—a charge she and her employer vehemently deny.

The district court in Kazan, Russia, held a hearing on Monday where Kurmasheva's legal representation argued for pretrial measures that would spare her from incarceration.

Unfortunately, their plea was rejected. Instead, the court ordered that she be held in a detention center until at least December 5, 2023. The decision has sent ripples of concern and disappointment through the international journalism community, with RFE/RL’s acting president, Jeffrey Gedmin, expressing deep frustration: "We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of today's hearing. We call for Alsu's immediate release so she can be reunited with her family.”

Kurmasheva's ordeal began when she traveled to Russia in May for a family emergency.

Holding dual citizenship, she found herself ensnared in bureaucratic red tape, temporarily detained, and stripped of her U.S.-Russian passports. Initially, she was fined $103 for not registering her U.S. passport with Russian authorities, a common procedure for dual citizens.

While awaiting the return of her passports, the foreign agent charges were abruptly leveled against her.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that she is now accused of "collecting information on Russian military activities that 'could be used against the security of the Russian Federation,'" a charge that carries a potential five-year prison sentence.

Russia faces sharp criticism

The charges and subsequent detention of Kurmasheva have drawn sharp criticism from advocacy groups and fellow journalists.

Gulnoza Said, a program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists in Europe and Central Asia, labeled the charges "spurious" and called for Kurmasheva’s immediate release. "Journalism is not a crime," Said stated, "and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting."

This incident is not isolated. In March of this year, Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was arrested in Russia on espionage charges.

He, too, remains in custody, despite denials of the charges from him and The Wall Street Journal. These incidents have heightened concerns over the safety and freedom of journalists operating in Russia, as well as the increasing use of “foreign agent” laws to suppress dissent and control narratives.

As Kurmasheva’s family, friends, and colleagues await her return, her case serves as a stark reminder of the risks journalists face worldwide, and the need for constant vigilance and advocacy to protect the freedom of the press.

The world watches and waits, hoping for a just resolution to Alsu Kurmasheva’s case and the reaffirmation of the fundamental rights of journalists everywhere.

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