Russian Court Rejects RFE/RL Journalist's Appeal Against Pretrial Detention

KAZAN, Russia -- The Supreme Court of Russia's Republic of Tatarstan has denied the appeal filed by RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva against her pretrial detention on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent, which she rejects.

The hearing on October 31 was held behind closed doors with Kurmasheva participating via video link from a detention center in Tatarstan's capital, Kazan. Kurmahseva's lawyer requested pretrial restrictions for his client other than placement in pretrial detention. A week earlier, Kazan's Soviet district court had placed Kurmasheva in pretrial detention until at least December 5.

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at Kazan airport, where both of her passports were confiscated. She has not been able to leave Russia since as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

Authorities on October 11 fined Kurmasheva 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities, according to local media reports based on court documents they've seen.

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee announced that Kurmasheva has been charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out the “purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia,” which, if received by foreign sources, “can be used against the security of the country."

It gave no further details.

The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that, while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of foreign agents, she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.

Kurmasheva denies the charge.

RFE/RL acting President Jeffrey Gedmin has rejected the charges against Kurmasheva saying she is being persecuted for her professional work.

“Journalism is not a crime. She must be released to her family immediately,” he said.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. journalist to be held by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians, saying the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.

Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March.

Since 2012, Russia has used its so-called foreign agent laws to label and punish critics of government policies. It also has been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Office, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee have called for the immediate release of Kurmasheva.

The foreign agent law allows authorities to label nonprofit organizations as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activities.

RFE/RL says the law amounts to political censorship meant to prevent journalists from performing their professional duties and is challenging the authorities' moves in Russian courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.

More than 30 RFE/RL employees have been listed as "foreign agents" by the Russian Justice Ministry in their personal capacity.

In March, a Moscow court declared the bankruptcy of RFE/RL's operations in Russia following the company's refusal to pay multiple fines totaling more than 1 billion rubles ($14 million) for noncompliance with the law.

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Key Words: Russia, Repression, RFE/RL, Journalists, Media, Russian Government, Human Rights, Alsu Kurmasheva

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