U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva holds drawings by her supporters as she attends a court hearing in Kazan, Russia, on May 31, 2024. The court extended her detention until August. (Photo: Reuters/Alexey Nasyrov)

Russia extends detention of journalist Alsu Kurmasheva for 2 months

New York, May 31, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly denounced a Russian court’s Friday decision to extend the pretrial detention of U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until August 5 and called for her immediate release.

“U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva has spent more than seven months behind bars for no reason except her work, and she must be freed at once,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities must immediately grant Kurmasheva consular access, provide her with appropriate medical care, drop all charges against her, and release her. Meanwhile, U.S. authorities should not delay any longer Kurmasheva’s designation as ‘wrongfully detained’ and ensure her swift release.”

In a closed-door hearing held Friday, a court in the western city of Kazan extended Kurmasheva’s detention by two months, according to media reports and a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) report. The court also denied Kurmasheva’s request for house arrest.

Kurmasheva, an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded RFE/RL, said she has been feeling steadily worse and needs surgery to fix her health problems. She added that she has not been allowed to call her children and that she last heard their voices in October 2023.

“The injustices multiply every day in this needless, cruel prosecution. Alsu’s fundamental rights as an American citizen are being denied by Russian authorities who have now imprisoned her for 227 days,” said RFE/RL President Stephen Capus in a statement.

Kurmasheva has been in pretrial detention since authorities apprehended her on October 18, 2023, 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 accusations she helped distribute 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.

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 March 26, 2024, his pretrial detention was extended until June 30.

While the U.S. government designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” by Russia, a move that unlocked a broad U.S. government effort to free him, it has yet to make the same determination regarding Kurmasheva.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a May 16 press briefing that the department was “certainly not slow-walking the process.”

On April 27, during the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to release Gershkovich and Kurmasheva. Patel echoed the call for Kurmasheva’s release during the May 16 press briefing.

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.”

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

Russia is the fourth-worst jailer of journalists in the world, holding at least 22 journalists, including Kurmasheva and Gershkovich, in prison on December 1, 2023, according to CPJ’s most recent prison census.

Editor’s note: The headline was updated to correct the description of Kurmasheva’s detention.