February 7, 2024

07.02.2024 – The Ongoing Detention of Alsu Kurmasheva and the Perilous State of Press Freedom in Russia

The District Court of Kazan (Казань), Russia, recently ruled to extend the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva (Алсу Курмашева), a Prague-based journalist associated with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service (RFERL – https://www.rferl.org/), until 5 April 2024. This decision, made behind closed doors on 1 February 2024, marks an additional two months from her initial detention on 18 October 2023. Kurmasheva, a dual American and Russian citizen, found herself ensnared in the Russian legal system under accusations of violating the foreign agent law and in an additional case allegedly spreading false information concerning the Russian military, connected to her alleged distribution of a book. The first charge carries a potential sentence of five years in prison, the second up to 10 years in prison.

Kurmasheva entered Russia in May 2023 to deal with a family case and was temporarily detained while waiting at Kazan airport for her return flight in June 2023. She was financially fined on 11 October 2023 for failing to register her American passport. Several days later, on 18 October 2023 she was arrested again.

The court proceedings shrouded in secrecy and limited press access, have ignited concerns about transparency and the adherence to fair trial standards. Despite appeals for her release and calls for her designation as “wrongfully detained” by the United States Department of State, Kurmasheva’s legal team’s plea to change her detention status to house arrest was summarily dismissed.

The plight of Kurmasheva, a seasoned journalist with a career spanning decades, has attracted widespread condemnation from international media advocacy groups. Her case is the second case where a U.S. journalist is arrested in Russia. Evan Gershkovich a U.S. journalist at The Wall Street Journal covering Russia, was arrested by Russia’s authorities on charges of espionage in March 2023,

The refusal of Russian authorities to grant consular access to Kurmasheva have further compounded concerns about her well-being and the politicization of her detention. The prolonged incarceration of journalists like Kurmasheva highlights the precarious landscape for independent media in Russia and the urgent need for international solidarity in safeguarding press freedom and the right to free expression.

The South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) strongly condemns the prolonged detention of Alsu Kurmasheva by Russian authorities. Kurmasheva’s continued imprisonment, now extended until 5 April 2024, exemplifies the alarming crackdown on press freedom in Russia. SEEMO denounces this flagrant violation of journalistic rights and calls for Kurmasheva’s immediate release. The unjust detention of Kurmasheva, based on dubious charges related to her journalistic activities, underscores the urgent need for international solidarity in defending press freedom and advocating for the rights of journalists worldwide.

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO) is a regional non-governmental, non profit network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in Southeast, South, East and Central Europe. SEEMO members are in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova (with the territory of Transdnestria), Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Türkiye / Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Austria, Italy, Vatican and San Marino have a special status in SEEMO. SEEMO has over 3000 individual members, and additional media as corporate members.

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