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Court rejects RFE/RL journalist Kurmasheva’s request for house arrest

Alsu Kurmasheva (Committee to Protect Journalists/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Supreme Court of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan ruled on February 20 that RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who has been held in Russian custody for more than four months on charges that she, her employer, and her supporters reject, will remain in pretrial detention.

Kurmasheva’s lawyers requested their client to be transferred to house arrest due to her state of health, among other issues.

Judge Olga Migunova rejected the request but shortened Kurmasheva’s pretrial detention term by one day, from at least until April 5 to at least April 4.

Kurmasheva took part in the hearing via a video-link from a detention center.

Kurmasheva, a Prague, Czech Republic-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, has been held in Russian custody since October 18 on a charge of violating the so-called foreign agent law.

Despite spending more than four months in custody, the U.S. State Department has yet to designate her as wrongfully detained as it has other U.S. citizens held in Russia.

The designation would raise the profile of the case against Kurmasheva, effectively labeling it as politically motivated. Two other U.S. citizens held by Russia, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, have been designated as wrongfully detained.

Kurmasheva, who has worked for RFE/RL’s Tatar-Bashkir Service for some 25 years, left the Czech capital in mid-May because of a family emergency in her native Tatarstan.

She was briefly detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2, 2023, at the Kazan airport, where both of her passports and phone were confiscated. After five months waiting for a decision in her case, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($108) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

Unable to leave Russia without her travel documents, Kurmasheva was detained again in October and this time handed the failure to register as a foreign agent charge. Two months later, she was charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military.

Kurmasheva recently wrote from her prison cell in the Russian city of Kazan that her detention is “becoming slowly but surely less bearable.”

Many critics and rights group say the so-called foreign agent law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

Moscow also has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

Last week, 23 countries nominated Kurmasheva for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano 2024 World Press Freedom Prize.

The prize, created in 1997, is an annual award that honors a person or a group of people who make an “outstanding” contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom across the globe despite the “danger and persecution” they face.

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists — Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three — currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.