Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on February 1, 2024. (Reuters/Alexey Nasyrov)

Russia extends detention of U.S.-Russia journalist Alsu Kurmasheva; CPJ calls for release

New York, February 1, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a Russian court’s decision on Thursday to extend the pretrial detention of U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until April 5, and called for her immediate release.

“By extending the pretrial detention of journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been held for over 100 days on ludicrous criminal charges, Russian authorities are once again demonstrating their disdain for the right of journalists to report independently,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities must immediately grant Kurmasheva consular access, drop all charges against her, and release her. For their part, U.S. authorities should recognize Kurmasheva as ‘wrongfully detained’ and ensure her quick release.”

On Thursday, February 1, a court in the western city of Kazan held a closed-door hearing and extended the detention of Kurmasheva, an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), by two months, until April 5, according to media reports.

The ruling marks the second time that Russian authorities have extended Kurmasheva’s pretrial detention since her October 18, 2023, arrest on charges of failing to register herself as a foreign agent, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

An additional charge of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army—stemming from her alleged involvement in the distribution of a book based on stories of residents in Russia’s southwestern Volga region who oppose the country’s invasion of Ukraine—was later brought against her, which could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Kurmasheva and RFE/RL both deny the charges.

“Russian authorities are conducting a deplorable criminal campaign against the wrongfully detained Alsu Kurmasheva. Imprisoned and treated unjustly simply because she is an American journalist, Alsu’s prison sentence has been extended again,” RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said in a statement on Thursday.

Kurmasheva is the second U.S. journalist to be held by Russia after authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March 2023. On January 26, 2024, his pretrial detention was extended until March 30.

Gershkovich has now spent more than 300 days in detention, while Kurmasheva has been held for more than 100 days. A request for U.S. consular officials to visit Kurmasheva was denied on December 20, U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a press briefing on January 24.

CPJ emailed the Sovetsky District Court of Kazan for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

While the U.S. government designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” by Russia, a status that unlocked a broad U.S. government effort to free him, within two weeks of his detention, it has yet to make the same decision regarding Kurmasheva. Patel said during the January 24 press briefing that he had “no updates to offer on any specific designation.”

In November 2023, CPJ joined 13 other press freedom and freedom of expression groups in calling on the U.S. to declare Kurmasheva as “wrongfully detained.”

“This is a wrongful detention and Alsu should be set free as soon as possible,” the journalist’s husband, Pavel Butorin, told CPJ in November.

“Alsu should be officially declared “wrongfully detained” by the United States Department of State, just as the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was immediately designated after his unjust arrest,” Capus said in the Thursday statement.

Russia held at least 22 journalists, including Kurmasheva and Gershkovich, in prison on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.