A Russian court on Monday ordered Russian-American journalist Alsu Kurmasheva detained until December 5, after prosecutors said she had failed to register as a “foreign agent”.
She is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia this year, following Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was detained in March on espionage charges.
Kurmasheva, who works for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) media outlet, was detained by Russian law enforcement officers in the central city of Kazan on Wednesday.
The Sovietsky district court in Kazan -- the main city of the Tatarstan republic -- ruled she should be kept in detention as a “preventative measure”.
She faces up to five years in jail if found guilty of the charges.
Following Monday’s hearing, RFE/RL called for Kurmasheva to be released immediately.
“We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing,” said RFE/RL acting President Jeffrey Gedmin.
“We call for Alsu’s immediate release so she can be reunited with her family,” Gedmin said.
Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia this year.
WSJ reporter Gershkovich was detained in March on spying charges -- rejected as false by his lawyers, the WSJ and the White House.
- ‘Harassing US citizens’ -
US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said last week that Kurmasheva’s arrest “appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing US citizens”.
The Kremlin on Friday denied it was “persecuting” US citizens.
“There is no campaign in Russia to persecute US citizens. There are US citizens who break the law, and appropriate measures are taken against them,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Kurmasheva, editor of the US outlet’s Tatar-Bashkir service, lives in Prague with her husband and two teenage daughters.
“Kurmasheva is an accomplished journalist who has long covered ethnic minority communities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan,” RFE/RL said after she was detained last week.
Last year, Kurmasheva edited a book titled, “Saying No to War” -- a collection of interviews and stories of Russians who oppose Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.
She returned to Russia in May for a family emergency and was temporarily detained at Kazan airport on June 2 before her return flight.
Her US and Russian passports were both confiscated and she was fined for failing to register her US passport with Russian authorities, according to RFE/RL.
The new charges were announced last week while she was still in Russia awaiting the return of her passports.
- ‘Relentless crackdown’ -
Russia has used the “foreign agent” label -- which has Soviet-era connotations -- as part of an intense crackdown on independent news outlets and journalists over the past decade.
Journalists and outlets designated “foreign agents” must register and submit financial reports to Russia’s justice ministry.
They face fines or imprisonment for non-compliance and attach a disclaimer which states they are a “foreign agent” to all of their content, including articles, videos and social media posts.
Rights groups said the detention of Kurmasheva marks a new threshold in Russia’s campaign against independent media.
“The persecution of Alsu Kurmasheva is an example of the relentless crackdown on journalism and the right to freedom of expression in Russia,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
“It also marks an alarming escalation in the harassment of media professionals, as it’s the first time this offence has been used to directly target a journalist for their professional activities,” Struthers added.
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