The husband of Alsu Kurmasheva, a journalist jailed in Russia on accusations that she failed to register as a foreign agent, is calling on the U.S. government to declare her “wrongfully detained.”
Kurmasheva, an American-Russian dual citizen, was detained on October 18. Authorities ordered her held until at least December 5.
The editor works with the Tatar-Bashkir service for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL. She and her media outlet deny the charges against her.
In his first public comments since Kurmasheva’s detention, her husband, Pavel Butorin, is urging the United States to classify the journalist as “wrongfully detained,” which would open additional government resources to help secure her release.
“We’re already very grateful for the support that we are receiving,” Butorin told VOA’s sister outlet RFE/RL. “This is a very important designation, the kind that comes from the United States government and from the State Department.”
Butorin, like Kurmasheva, works from the RFE/RL offices in Prague. Butorin heads Current Time TV, a Russian-language TV and digital network led by RFE/RL in partnership with VOA.
“There is nothing we want to happen more than to get Alsu back. My children need her. I need my wife back,” Butorin said.
The journalist had traveled to Russia in May for a family emergency. When she tried to return to Prague in June, her passports were confiscated. She was waiting for those documents to be returned when authorities detained her on October 18.
Now, Kurmasheva is facing five years in prison for allegedly violating Russia’s “foreign agent” law.
Moscow says its foreign agent law is a response to the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration Act, but analysts say that the Kremlin uses the designation to target critics.
Russia designated the U.S. Congress-funded RFE/RL a foreign agent in 2020.
The independent network refused to comply with the requirement to register as a foreign agent, saying it would be an invasion of its editorial processes and would limit the ability of the network to work.
U.S. officials and the U.N. Human Rights Office, along with media freedom and human rights groups, have called on Moscow to release Kurmasheva.
“This appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing U.S. citizens,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in October.
Russia’s Washington embassy did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.
One of two journalists detained this year
Kurmasheva is the second American journalist jailed in Russia this year.
In March, Russian authorities detained American Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government deny.
Declared wrongfully detained by the U.S. government, Gershkovich, 32, is in pre-trial detention until at least November 30. The detention period has been twice extended and appeals for bail denied.
“It’s really hard to believe that our colleague, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, has now been wrongfully detained for more than six months,” Almar Latour, chief executive of Dow Jones and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, said Tuesday at an Atlantic Council event about threats facing foreign correspondents.
“In 2023, journalism is under attack. Make no mistake about it,” Latour said.
Paul Beckett, an assistant editor at the Journal who is focused on securing Gershkovich’s release, said the reporter is “in pretty decent shape” considering the circumstances. He added that the letters of support Gershkovich receives mean “a massive amount.”
The jailings of Gershkovich and Kurmasheva underscore global threats facing press freedom.
At the end of 2022, a record high of 363 reporters were jailed around the world, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Of those, 19 were detained in Russia.
“The environment for journalists everywhere has deteriorated dramatically in recent years, and that’s in part because we’re seeing a global decline in democracy,” CPJ president Jodie Ginsberg said at the Atlantic Council.