Russian court extends detention of US-Russian journalist working for Radio Liberty

A Russian court has extended the detention of US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, Russian state news agency TASS reported from the courtroom Monday.

Kurmasheva, the editor for the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), will now be detained until June 5, for failing to register as a foreign agent, according to TASS.

She is not feeling well physically and the conditions she is in make it impossible for her to take care of her health, Kurmasheva told journalists Monday, according to TASS.

“The cell is 5 square meters (about 54 square feet) long for the two people, there is no hot water, instead of a toilet there is a hole in the floor. There is not even half a meter (1.6 feet) of floor space to walk on,” she was also cited as saying.

According to her employer, a US-funded media outlet, Kurmasheva was originally detained in June 2023 in the Russian city of Kazan while waiting for a return flight to the Czech Republic, where she was based. She had arrived in Russia in May due to an urgent family matter.

Kazan airport employees initially confiscated both of her passports and, soon after, she was fined for failing to register her American passport with the Russian authorities, RFE/RL said. Kurmasheva was waiting for the return of her passports when new charges were announced in October, accusing her of failing to register as a foreign agent.

According to independent Russian media outlet SOTA Vision, Kurmasheva has been in detention since October. Her lawyer, Edgar Matevosyan, said she was not guilty and planned to appeal, SOTA Vision also reported.

RFE/RL has described Kurmasheva as an accomplished journalist who has been writing about the life of ethnic minorities in Russia’s Tatarstan and Bashkortostan regions for many years.

Russia expanded its law on “foreign agents” in 2022 following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, signaling an intensifying crackdown on free speech and opposition under President Vladimir Putin. Since then, not only individuals or organizations receiving funding from abroad are regarded as foreign agents but also anyone who has “received support and (or) is under foreign influence.”

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the arrest and detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich in Russia. Gershkovich was arrested on a work trip and charged with espionage — accusations he and his employer vehemently deny. He has yet to face trial, and his pre-trial detention was extended last week until June 30. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Also last week, six journalists working for independent media outlets in Russia were arrested. One of those reporters, Antonina Favorskaya, employed by SOTA Vision, has been accused of “extremist activities” because of her coverage of the late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Anna Cooban and Olesya Dmitracova in London contributed to this article.

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