Russia’s detention of US journalists has drawn criticism from press freedom groups.
Russia has detained a Russian-American journalist at a government-funded US media outlet for failing to register as a “foreign agent” when she entered the country during a family emergency.
The outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) said in a statement on Thursday that Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor and a dual citizen of Russia and the United States, faces up to five years in prison.
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“Alsu is a highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother to two children,” said RFE/RL acting President Jeffrey Gedmin in a dual statement with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a press freedom group.
“She needs to be released so she can return to her family immediately.”
US State Department spokesman Matt Miller told reporters that the arrest “appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing US citizens”.
“We have not been officially notified by the government of Russia about this arrest,” he said.
Russia has tightened controls over the media following its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, designating many reporters as “foreign agents”.
Kurmasheva, who works for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service, is the second US reporter to be detained by Russia this year, after Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested in March on espionage charges.
Press freedom groups and the US government have strongly criticised such detentions as a form of stifling dissent. CPJ called the charges against Kurmasheva “spurious” in its statement with RFE/RL.
“CPJ is deeply concerned by the detention of US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva on spurious criminal charges and calls on Russian authorities to release her immediately and drop all charges against her,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator.
Tatar-Inform, a state-held news agency in the Tatarstan republic, has reported that Kurmasheva is being held in a temporary detention centre. The outlet says that Russian authorities have accused Kurmasheva of collecting information on the Russian military to pass along to foreign sources.
Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague, travelled to Russia on May 20 for a family emergency, RFE/RL said. She was stopped at Kazan International Airport on June 2, where officials confiscated her passport and administered a fine for failing to register her US passport with Russian authorities, the outlet said.
The editor was awaiting the return of her passports when new charges were announced on Wednesday.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a call for her “prompt and unconditional” release.
“Journalists must be left to do their vital work free from pressure, intimidation and reprisals,” OHCHR said.