Second US journalist “taken hostage” by Russia
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist with dual US and Russian nationality employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Her arrest on 18 October in Kazan, a Tatar city 720 km east of Moscow, comes nearly seven months after fellow US journalist Evan Gershkovich’s arrest
Charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent,” for which she faces a possible five-year prison sentence, Alsu Kurmasheva normally resides in Prague, where she works for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service. She travelled to Russia in May because of a family emergency, according to a statement issued by RFE/RL, a US government-funded broadcaster.
Both her Russian and US passports were seized when she tried to fly back to Prague on 2 June and she was subsequently fined for failing to declare her US passport. She was still waiting for the authorities to return her passports when she was arrested yesterday.
“With this new arrest, Russia is going one step further in its blackmail of the United States, which is helping Ukraine to defend itself. But journalists must not be used as bargaining chips in Moscow's war against Kyiv. We condemn Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention and call for her immediate and unconditional release, as well as that of Evan Gershkovich, who has been detained arbitrarily for nearly seven months.
Kurmasheva often covers stories related to the ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, in Russia’s Volga-Ural region, whose inhabitants are mostly Turkic-speaking Muslims.
In 2017, the Tatar-Bashkir service of RFE/RL became one of the first media outlets in Russia to be declared a “foreign agent” – an oppressive label designed to stigmatise and intimidate independent media. A total of 244 journalists and media entities are now on Russia’s “foreign agents” list.
Refusing to accept this defamatory libel and unable to continue working because of the Kremlin-imposed war censorship, RFE/RL’s local services finally closed their offices in Russia in March 2022 and relocated to Prague and Riga.
Last March, Moscow-based Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich became the first US journalist to be arrested in Russia since the Cold War. He is facing up to 20 years in prison on a charge of spying, although no evidence has been produced to support the accusation. The case against him is regarded as classified and all of his requests for release on bail have been systematically rejected.