A Russian-American journalist working for a U.S. government-funded media company has been detained in Russia and charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, according to her employer.
Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty editor Alsu Kurmasheva is the second U.S. journalist to be detained in Russia this year. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for alleged spying in March.
Kurmasheva, an editor with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir service, is being held in a temporary detention center, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, citing a Russian state news agency.
The Tatar-Inform agency posted video which showed Kurmasheva being marched into an administrative building accompanied by four men, two of whom held her arms and wore balaclavas.
Tatar-Inform said authorities accused Kurmasheva of collecting information about Russia’s military activities “in order to transmit information to foreign sources,” suggesting she received information about university teachers who were mobilized into the Russian army.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said she was charged with failing to register as a foreign agent in her capacity as a person collecting information on Russian military activities. It cited local authorities saying the information “could be used against the security of the Russian Federation.”
If convicted, Kurmasheva could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, the New York-based press freedom group said.
“Alsu is a highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother to two children,” Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty Acting President Jeffrey Gedmin said. “She needs to be released so she can return to her family immediately.”
Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague with her family, was stopped at Kazan International Airport on June 2 after traveling to Russia for a family emergency on May 20, according to RFE/RL.
Officials at the airport confiscated Kurmasheva’s U.S. and Russian passports and she was later fined for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities. She was waiting for her passports to be returned when the new charge of failing to register as a foreign agent was announced Wednesday, RFE/RL said.
RFE/RL was told to register by Russian authorities as a foreign agent in December 2017. It brought a case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights in 2021, challenging Russia’s use of foreign agent laws that resulted in the organization being fined millions of dollars.
Kurmasheva reported on ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in Russia, including projects to protect and preserve the Tatar language and culture despite “increased pressure” on Tatars from Russian authorities, her employer said.
Analysts have pointed out that Moscow may be using jailed Americans as bargaining chips after U.S.-Russian tensions soared when Russia sent troops into Ukraine. At least two U.S. citizens arrested in Russia in recent years — including WNBA star Brittney Griner — have been exchanged for Russians jailed in the U.S.
“Journalism is not a crime, and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting,” Gulnoza Said, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said.
Kurmasheva’s detention comes seven months after the Wall Street Journal’s Gershkovich was detained in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) east of Moscow. He has appeared in court multiple times since his arrest and unsuccessfully appealed his continued imprisonment.
Russia’s Federal Security Service alleged Gershkovich, “acting on the instructions of the American side, collected information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex.”
Gershkovich and the Journal deny the allegations, and the U.S. government has declared him to be wrongfully detained. Russian authorities haven’t detailed any evidence to support the espionage charges. Court proceedings against him are closed because prosecutors say details of the criminal case are classified.