Russia extends detention of US-Russian journalist Kurmasheva

Alsu Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia since the start of Moscow's military offensive in Ukraine (Alexander NEMENOV)
Alsu Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia since the start of Moscow's military offensive in Ukraine (Alexander NEMENOV)

A Russian court on Monday extended until June 5 the provisional detention of US-Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who faces 15 years in prison on charges of spreading "false information," according to her employer.

A journalist at the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Kurmasheva was arrested last year for failing to register as a "foreign agent".

RFE/RL says she was subsequently charged with spreading false information under new censorship laws introduced after Russia launched its military offensive on Ukraine in 2022.

In court in the central city of Kazan, Kurmasheva smiled but complained about the poor conditions in which she was being held.

"This cell is five square metres for two people. There is no hot water. Instead of a toilet there is a hole in the floor," she said.

Kurmasheva edited a 2022 book titled "Saying No to War", which is a collection of interviews and stories from Russians opposed to the campaign against Ukraine ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Washington said it was "deeply concerned about her detention".

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Kremlin's continued attempts to intimidate, repress and punish journalists and civil society voices," State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters Monday.

"The charges against Ms Kurmasheva are just another sign of the weakness of Putin's regime."

RFE/RL on Monday called her imprisonment "outrageous", and said she had been locked up "simply because she holds an American passport."

"The charges against Alsu are baseless. It's not a legal process, it's a political ploy, and Alsu and her family are unjustifiably paying a terrible price," RFE/RL head Stephen Capus said.

"Russia must end this sham and immediately release Alsu without condition," he added.

- 'Harassment' -

Kurmasheva, who lives in Prague with her husband and two children, had her US and Russian passports confiscated last June after travelling to Russia for a family emergency.

She was then arrested for failing to register as a "foreign agent" in October while awaiting the return of her passports.

That charge carries up to five years in prison while spreading "false information" has a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Rights groups have accused Russia of using oppressive legislation to target critics and independent journalists.

Kurmasheva is the second US journalist to be arrested in Russia since the start of the Ukraine offensive.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has spent more than a year in jail on espionage charges that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He too has denied the charges.

Washington has accused Moscow of arresting US citizens without evidence to swap for the release of Russians jailed abroad.

Kurmasheva's lawyers had called for her to be released and put under house arrest pending the trial. The hearing did not concern the substance of the case.

bur/rox/tw