Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S.-Russian dual citizen and an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has been detained in Russia since October 2023 on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent. If convicted, she faces up to five years in prison. A new 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. That charge carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
The RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service has regularly covered 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 a statement by RFE/RL.
On October 18, 2023, authorities in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan republic, detained Kurmasheva on charges of failing to register 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.”
Kurmasheva, who lives in the Czech capital, Prague, traveled to Russia for a family emergency on May 20 and has been unable to leave the country since. She was temporarily detained at Kazan airport on June 2, before her return flight, when authorities confiscated her U.S. and Russian passports. They later fined her for failure to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities, according to the RFE/RL statement. The fine for failing to register her passport was 10,000 rubles (US$105), according to media reports.
If found guilty under the “failing to register as a foreign agent” charge, 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 has been used. The “fake” information charge carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years, under Article 207.3, Part 2 of the criminal code.
According to the state news agency Tatar-Inform, authorities accuse Kurmasheva of using the internet in September 2022 to conduct a targeted collection of information about Russian military activities in order to transmit it to foreign sources, and of using information about Tatarstan university teachers who were drafted in the army to prepare “alternative analytical materials” for international authorities and to conduct information campaigns in order to discredit Russia.
On November 8, Kurmasheva’s husband Pavel Butorin urged the United States to classify the journalist as “wrongfully detained.”
Butorin told CPJ in November 2023 that Kurmasheva was “OK,” adding, “as far as we know.”
“The conditions aren’t great, it’s a Russian prison after all. She’s trying to form bonds with other inmates. She is a positive person. Trying to take care of her mental health as well,” he said.
In October 2023, CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Interior’s branch for the Tatarstan republic but did not receive a reply.