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Russian Federation: Free Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

Last update: 4 June 2024
Russian Federation: Free Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

PEN Belarus joins the statement of PEN International regarding Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva.

The charges brought against Alsu Kurmasheva are preposterous and must be dropped at once. The Russian authorities are using her continued arbitrary detention to send a chilling message to fellow journalists in the Russian Federation and beyond, and to silence anyone who dares speak out. Kurmasheva must be released and reunited with her loved ones immediately,’ said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

31 May 2024 – The Russian authorities should end Alsu Kurmasheva’s year-long ordeal, release her immediately and unconditionally, and drop all charges against her, PEN International said today. Sunday 2 June will mark one year since the Russian-American journalist was first detained in Kazan, Tatarstan, a republic of the Russian Federation. She faces up to 15 years in prison under the Russian Federation’s draconian ‘Foreign Agent’ and military censorship laws.

Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Tatar-Bashkir Service residing in the Czech Republic, was temporarily detained at Kazan airport on 2 June 2023 while waiting for her return flight. She had been travelling to the Russian Federation to visit her ailing mother. The authorities confiscated her US and Russian passports, preventing her from leaving the country, and subsequently fined her 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her US passport. Kurmasheva was detained again on 18 October 2023 on charges of failing to register and declare herself as a ‘Foreign Agent’ (Article 330.1(3) of the Russian Criminal Code), which carries up to five years in prison. On 11 December 2023, reports emerged that the Russian authorities opened another case against her for spreading ‘knowingly false’ information about the Russian armed forces (Article 207.3(2) of the Russian Criminal Code), which carries up to 10 years in prison or up to 15 years in an aggravated case. She stands accused of taking part in the distribution of Saying No To War. 40 Stories of Russians Who Oppose the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, a book published in November 2022 by RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service.

Alsu Kurmasheva is currently being held in pre-trial detention in Kazan and denied US consular access. On 31 May, the Sovetsky District Court of Kazan extended her detention order again, which is now set to expire on 5 August 2024. The Court notably rejected her lawyers’ request to move her to house arrest. Speaking to reporters on 1 April prior to appearing in Court, Kurmasheva said she was ‘not very well physically’ and that her detention conditions were ‘very bad.’ She also reported receiving ‘minimal’ medical care.

Alsu Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be held in the Russian Federation after the Russian authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March 2023. He remains in pre-trial detention. At least 30 journalists, including Kurmasheva, were reportedly being detained in the Russian Federation and facing lengthy prison sentences as of March 2024.

Background information

Alsu Kurmasheva, born on 1 September 1976, is an editor with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service who has long covered ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. She is a dual US and Russian citizen who lives in Prague, Czech Republic, with her husband and two children. Scores of international organisations, including PEN America, have called for her release.

PEN International has long urged the Russian authorities to repeal their draconian ‘Foreign Agents’ law, which has been used to target civil society organisations, media outlets, journalists, human rights defenders and political activists. PEN International further condemns the Russian Federation’s war censorship laws, with anyone found guilty of spreading information about the conduct of the Russian armed forces that deviated from the official line facing up to 15 years in prison. The laws must be repealed, and all those imprisoned solely for protesting the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine must be immediately and unconditional released.

Note to Editors:

For further details contact Aurélia Dondo, Head of Europe and Central Asia Region at PEN International: [email protected]