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Russia detains Radio Free Europe journalist with dual U.S. and Russian citizenship

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By Guy Faulconbridge

MOSCOW () -Russia has detained an editor at U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) for failing to register as a foreign agent while visiting Russia for a family emergency, the broadcaster said.

Russia has tightened its control over the media since the start of the Ukraine war, forcing the closure of leading independent news outlets and designating many journalists and publications as “foreign agents”.

After the war and the arrest of Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in March on spying charges, almost all U.S. journalists have left Russia. The State Department has repeatedly urged U.S. citizens to leave Russia.

Alsu Kurmasheva, an editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tatar-Bashkir Service who holds both U.S. and Russian passports, travelled to Russia on May 20 for a family emergency.

As Kurmasheva sought to leave Russia at the end of that trip, she was detained and her passports were confiscated as she awaited her return flight. She was fined for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.

Russian authorities announced on Oct. 18 that Kurmasheva, who is based in Prague, had been charged with not registering as a “foreign agent”, RFE/RL said.

The term, which carries Cold War connotations of espionage, is used in Russia to label organisations, journalists, activists and even pop stars and writers deemed to be engaging in political activity with foreign support.

“Alsu is a highly respected colleague, devoted wife, and dedicated mother to two children,” said RFE/RL acting president Jeffrey Gedmin.

“She needs to be released so she can return to her family immediately.”

Russia’s Tatar-Inform news agency said Kurmasheva had failed to register as a “foreign agent” while gathering information on Russia’s military activity. She could face up to five years in prison, according to RFE/RL, which called for her release.

The Russian government has yet to comment on her detention.

JOURNALISM IN RUSSIA

Some Russian journalists, intellectuals and opposition activists say that the freedoms won as the Soviet Union crumbled have been lost and that public discourse inside Russia is dominated by jingoistic propaganda.

Russian officials dismiss such claims and say that Western journalists have for years failed to report Russia accurately and have engaged in openly biased reporting of Russia and the Ukraine war to further the interests of the West.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which has headquarters in Prague and Washington, says its mission is to “promote democratic values by providing accurate, uncensored news and open debate in countries where a free press is threatened and disinformation is pervasive”.

It is funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress through the U.S. Agency for Global Media. During the Cold War, RFE/RL transmitted news to audiences behind the Iron Curtain. The involvement of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in RFE/RL ended in 1972, according to RFE/RL’s own history.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was deeply concerned by Kurmasheva’s arrest.

“CPJ is deeply concerned by the detention of U.S-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva on spurious criminal charges and calls on Russian authorities to release her immediately and drop all charges against her,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.

“Journalism is not a crime and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting.”

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