Russian Court Orders Arrest of U.S. Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva

From a Wall Street Journal story by Ann M. Simmons headlined “Russian Court Orders Formal Arrest of U.S. Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva”:

A Russian court formally arrested a U.S. journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in a case that is exacerbating tensions between Washington and Moscow, ordering her to be held in pretrial detention on an allegation she had failed to register herself as a “foreign agent.”

A representative of the Sovetsky District Court in Kazan, a city in southwest Russia, said Alsu Kurmasheva, who holds both U.S. and Russian citizenship, would be held until at least Dec. 5.

Kurmasheva, an editor for the Prague-based news organization, was initially detained in Kazan on Oct. 18, her employer said. “We are deeply disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing,” RFE/RL’s acting president Jeffrey Gedmin said in a statement. “We call for Alsu’s immediate release so she can be reunited with her family.”

Kurmasheva’s lawyer, Edgar Matevosyan, said in a phone call that he planned to appeal the court’s ruling within the allowed three days. He said Kurmasheva hadn’t been charged and hadn’t yet entered a plea. Under Russian law, prosecutors have up to 10 days to file charges, Matevosyan said.

Kurmasheva is the second U.S. journalist to be detained in Russia this year. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, 31, was detained in March, while on a reporting trip. He is being held on an allegation of espionage that he, the Journal and the U.S. government vehemently deny. On Oct. 10, a Russian court upheld the extension of Gershkovich’s pretrial confinement through Nov. 30.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Russia was taking appropriate measures against those who violate the law.

Civil-rights activists and journalist advocacy groups have condemned the reporter’s confinement as a case of being punished for working in a profession that promotes free speech.

Russian law requires that individuals and organizations receiving funding from abroad and those deemed to be engaged in certain activities, such as gathering and distributing information about the Russian military, register as foreign agents.

Russian authorities have enforced the law against perceived government critics who receive funding from abroad.

RFE/RL receives funding from the U.S. government. The Tatar-Bashkir language service, for which Kurmasheva is an editor, and eight other branches, were designated as foreign agents in 2017, according to an RFE/RL spokeswoman.

Dozens of RFE/RL employees had also received such a designation. Kurmasheva hadn’t, the spokeswoman said, but Russia’s foreign agent law now requires Russian citizens to register themselves as foreign agents if they are deemed to fit the criteria.

Conviction on a charge of failing to register as a foreign agent carries up to five years in prison.

According to RFE/RL, Kurmasheva, who has two children, traveled to Russia for a family emergency on May 20. She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2.

Authorities confiscated Kurmasheva’s U.S. and Russian passports, the company said. She was subsequently fined for failure to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities. Notifying the state of dual citizenship became a requirement in Russia in August 2014.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which issues journalist accreditation, didn’t respond to a request for comment on Kurmasheva’s case. “Her mood cannot be good under such circumstances,” Matevosyan, the lawyer, said of Kurmasheva.

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