RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva
RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva was detained in the western Russian city of Kazan on October 18, 2023. (Photo credit: Pangea Graphics, RFE/RL)

Russian authorities detain RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

New York, October 18, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by Wednesday’s detention of journalist Alsu Kurmasheva in the western Russian city of Kazan and calls on 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,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Journalism is not a crime and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting.”

Authorities in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan republic, detained Kurmasheva, an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), on charges of failing to register herself as a foreign agent in her capacity as a person collecting information on Russian military activities that “could be used against the security of the Russian Federation.” If found guilty, she faces up to five years in jail, according to Article 330.1, Part 3, of the Russian Criminal Code. A representative of Russian human-rights news website OVD-Info, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said that this was the first time this article was used.

“She needs to be released so she can return to her family immediately,” RFE/RL acting president Jeffrey Gedmin said in a statement on Wednesday.

Kurmasheva, a dual U.S. and Russian citizen who lives in Prague, traveled to Russia for a family emergency on May 20 and was temporarily detained at Kazan airport on June 2 before her return flight. Authorities confiscated her U.S. and Russian passports and fined her for failure to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities, RFE/RL reported. Kurmasheva has not been able to leave the country since June and was awaiting the return of her passports when the new charge was announced on October 18, the statement said.

Kurmasheva is the second U.S. journalist to be held by Russia, after Russian authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March this year.

According to the state news agency Tatar-Inform, authorities accuse Kurmasheva of having “deliberately conducted a targeted collection of military information about Russian activities via the Internet in order to transmit information to foreign sources” in September 2022, and of using information about Tatarstan university teachers who were drafted in the army to prepare “alternative analytical materials” for “relevant international authorities and conducting information campaigns discrediting Russia.”

Kurmasheva was being held in a temporary detention center as of the evening of October 18, Tatar-Inform said. The OVD-Info representative told CPJ that Kurmasheva will “most likely” soon be sent to a pre-trial detention center pending her trial.

“Alsu was detained simply because she is an employee of Radio Liberty. In fact, now any independent journalist in Russia risks the same thing,” a colleague of Kurmasheva told CPJ via messaging app on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

In August 2022, police in Kazan searched the homes of seven RFE/RL journalists and contributors and interrogated them about the Tatar-Bashkir service’s work. In November 2022, a court in Kazan ordered the arrest in absentia Andrei Grigoriev, a reporter with Idel.Realii, a project of the Tatar-Bashkir service, on charges of justifying terrorism.

The RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir service regularly covers the war in Ukraine and Russian authorities’ crackdown on the country’s civil society. Kurmasheva has long covered ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in the Volga-Ural region of Russia, according to the RFE/RL statement.

CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Interior’s branch for the Tatarstan republic but did not immediately receive a reply. 

Editor’s note: This text has been updated in the 10th paragraph to correct the year in which a court ordered the arrest of Andrei Grigoriev.