In the midst of escalating tensions since the onset of the Ukraine conflict, a U.S. journalist has been detained in Russia, marking the second such incident in recent times.
Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual Russian American reporter employed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), found herself in custody in the southwestern Russian city of Kazan while awaiting the return of her passports. This development was disclosed by her employer in a statement released on Thursday.
RFE/RL stated that Kurmasheva, based in Prague, has been charged with the failure to register as a foreign agent, a classification mandated by Russia for any entities or individuals perceived as receiving foreign funding. This label has frequently been used to target journalists and individuals critical of the Kremlin.
The charge carries a potential maximum prison sentence of five years, as confirmed by RFE/RL, a U.S. government-funded media organization. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges in March, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if found guilty.
Kurmasheva had been collaborating with RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service. According to RFE/RL, she traveled to Russia in May for a family emergency, and on June 2, while awaiting her return flight at Kazan airport, her U.S. and Russian passports were confiscated, effectively preventing her from leaving Russia.
Kurmasheva was in the process of awaiting the return of her passports when the new charge was announced on Wednesday, RFE/RL reported. Her immediate release has been called for by RFE/RL.
Russian news outlet Tatar-Inform reported that Russian authorities accused Kurmasheva of “conducting a targeted collection of military information about Russian activities via the Internet to transmit information to foreign sources,” a claim that NBC News has not independently verified.
As of now, there has been no official response from the White House regarding Kurmasheva’s detention.
NBC News has reached out to Russia’s foreign ministry and the U.S. embassy in Moscow for their comments on the situation.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has expressed deep concern over Kurmasheva’s detention, deeming the charges against her as “spurious.” They have also called for her immediate release.
Evan Gershkovich is still awaiting trial, with multiple appeals having been declined. Gershkovich and The Wall Street Journal have consistently denied all charges, with the U.S. government classifying him as “wrongfully detained.”
Since the commencement of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, the country has introduced stringent legislation that has made reporting perilous for both Russian and foreign journalists. This has led to the dissolution of many news organizations and prompted journalists to leave the nation.