Russia extends detention of journalist Alsu Kurmasheva by 2 months

New York, April 1, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a Russian court’s decision on Monday to extend the pretrial detention of U.S.-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until June 5 and called for her immediate release.

“Russian authorities have been holding journalist Alsu Kurmasheva for over five months on charges directly connected with her journalistic work. Today’s extension of her detention, though expected, is no less outrageous,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities must immediately grant Kurmasheva consular access, drop all charges against her, and release her. Meanwhile, the U.S. authorities should designate Kurmasheva as ‘wrongfully detained’ and ensure her swift release.”

In a hearing held Monday, a court in the western city of Kazan extended Kurmasheva’s detention by two months, according to media reports and a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reportKurmasheva, an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded RFE/RL, has been in pretrial detention since authorities detained her on October 18, 2023, on charges of failing to register herself as a foreign agent, which carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

The hearing was held behind closed doors, but journalists and U.S. Consul General Stuart Wilson were allowed inside during the ruling’s announcement, according to news reports

An additional 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, which could carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Kurmasheva and RFE/RL both deny the charges.

Before the hearing, Kurmasheva told journalists that she was “not very well physically,” that her conditions in detention were “very bad,” and that she was receiving “minimal” medical care. The court denied Kurmasheva’s request for house arrest. 

“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. Russia must end this sham and immediately release Alsu without condition,” said RFE/RL President Stephen Capus in a statement.

Kurmasheva is the second U.S. journalist to be held by Russia after authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges in March 2023. On March 26, 2024, his pretrial detention was extended until June 30.

A request for U.S. consular officials to visit Kurmasheva was denied in early March, an RFE/RL representative told CPJ.

While the U.S. government designated Gershkovich as “wrongfully detained” by Russia within two weeks of his detention, a move that unlocked  a broad U.S. government effort to free him, it has yet to make the same decision regarding Kurmasheva. 

In November 2023, CPJ joined 13 other press freedom and freedom of expression groups in calling on the U.S. to declare Kurmasheva as “wrongfully detained.”

CPJ emailed the Sovetsky District Court of Kazan for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Russia held at least 22 journalists, including Kurmasheva and Gershkovich, in prison on December 1, 2023, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

This content originally appeared on Committee to Protect Journalists and was authored by Committee to Protect Journalists.

This post was originally published on Radio Free.