April 21, 2024

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Russian American is accused of failing to register as a ‘foreign agent’ and spreading ‘false information’.

A Russian court has extended the pre-trial detention of journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until June 5, her employer Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) says.

The Prague-based editor, 47, was arrested last year in the city of Kazan in southwest Russia for failing to register as a “foreign agent” and for spreading “false information” under censorship laws enacted after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Appearing in court in Kazan on Monday, Kurmasheva smiled and complained about the poor state of the cell where she was being held, an Agence France-Presse reporter said.

Kurmasheva, who has both US and Russian passports, entered Russia in May to deal with a family emergency. She was initially detained on June 2 at an airport while awaiting her return flight, and her passports were confiscated.

According to court documents, she was then fined 10,000 roubles ($108) in October for failing to register her US passport with Russian authorities.

Funded by the United States Congress, her employer, RFE/RL, is designated by Russia as a foreign agent, a charge levelled on the basis that it receives foreign funding for activity deemed to be political.

In 2022, she edited a book titled Saying No to War, a collection of interviews and stories from Russians opposed to Moscow’s campaign against Ukraine.

In December, a state-affiliated media outlet reported that the book led to Russian investigators opening a new case against Kurmasheva, accusing her of spreading false information about the Russian army.

The charge for failing to register as a foreign agent carries up to five years in prison while spreading false information has a maximum sentence of 15 years.

‘Baseless’ charges

RFE/RL described her imprisonment as “outrageous” and said she has been locked up “simply because she holds an American passport”.

“The charges against Alsu are baseless. It’s not a legal process. It’s a political ploy, and Alsu and her family are unjustifiably paying a terrible price,” RFE/RL head Stephen Capus said on Monday.

“Russia must end this sham and immediately release Alsu without condition,” he added.

Rights groups have accused Russia of using oppressive legislation to target Kremlin critics and independent journalists.

Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia since the start of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has spent more than a year in jail in Moscow on espionage charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

He has denied the charges.

Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, an American convicted of spying in 2020 and jailed in Russia for 16 years, have been designated by the US government as “wrongfully detained”.

The designation means Washington considers the charges against them bogus and is committed to working for their release.

The US Department of State said last year that Kurmasheva’s arrest “appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing US citizens”, and her supporters have been lobbying Washington for the status of “wrongfully detained” for her as well.

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