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American Journalist Detained in Russia for Failing to Register as a Foreign Agent

Alsu Kurmasheva is a dual American-Russia citizen who has been detained since June

A second American journalist has been detained and charged in Russia.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty announced its reporter, Alsu Kurmasheva, had been taken into custody while waiting for a flight back to Prague, where she lives with her husband and children, on June 2.

Kurmasheva is a dual American-Russian citizen who works for the company’s Tatar-Bashkir Service which is based in the Czech Republic. She traveled to Russia in May to tend to a family emergency. 

According to her employer, Russian authorities seized Kurmasheva’s passports and fined her for failing to register her U.S. passports. She was unable to leave the country while waiting for her documents to be returned and was then detained again for failing to register as a foreign agent. That charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

“Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States,” said RFE/RL in a statement on Oct. 19. “More than 30 RFE/RL employees have been listed as ‘foreign agents’ by the Russian Justice Ministry in their personal capacity.”

American media officials expressed their support for Kurmasheva and denounced the Kremlin’s actions.

“We are tremendously concerned by the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva on the opportunistic charges of failing to register as a foreign agent,” Eileen O’Reilly, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, said in a joint statement

“Alsu is the second U.S. citizen to be held by Russia since the cold war,” O’Reilly and Klein added. “Alsu has already been detained almost five months without formal charges. We call for her immediate release and for clarification of what is expected of reporters for Radio Free Europe when entering Russia regarding Foreign Agent Registration.”

Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was detained in Russia in March. Gershkovich was accused of spying and his espionage trial is currently scheduled for Nov. 30. Russian authorities have accused the 31-year-old of “acting on the instructions of the American side” and of collecting “information constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” per CBS News

Gershkovich is the first American media worker to be charged with espionage by Russia since Nicholas Daniloff’s arrest in 1986. Both The Journal and Gershkovich have denied the allegations against him. He is currently being held in Moscow’s Lefortovo prison.

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy has visited Gershkovich on three separate occasions since his detainment. There has been bipartisan support for the journalist in the U.S. Senate, where Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, a Republican, and Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat, have demanded Gershkovich’s immediate release.

Both Risch and Cardin serve on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Russian authorities haven’t publicly provided evidence to support the allegation. The U.S. government has designated Gershkovich as wrongfully detained,” reports The Wall Street Journal. “Western governments, global news organizations, press-freedom advocates and human-rights groups around the world have joined the Journal and the Biden administration in demanding the journalist’s immediate release. The U.S. has said Gershkovich isn’t a spy and has never worked for the government.”

Two other Americans — former Marine Paul Whelan and history teacher Marc Fogel — were also detained by Russia and are currently serving jail sentences more than a decade long.

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