The IPI global network calls on Russian authorities to immediately release journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained in the city of Kazan on October 18.

Kurmasheva was arrested in Kazan, the capital of the region of Tatarstan, where she traveled in May due to urgent family issues. She attempted to leave Russia on June 2, but was detained before boarding her flight at Kazan airport. She was fined for not having declared her American citizenship to Russian authorities, with her Russian and American passports also confiscated at the time.

Unable to leave Russia without a passport, she had since stayed in Kazan, until authorities formulated new accusations against her, this time weaponizing criminal charges.

Russian authorities accused Kurmasheva of failing to register as a “foreign agent”, claiming that the country’s laws oblige anyone collecting information about the Russian military to register as an “agent” on their own initiative. According to unconfirmed information reported by the state-controlled news agency Tatar-Inform, which is based in Kazan, Kurmasheva was accused of collecting information about mobilization in Russia in the context of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

On Monday, the journalist appeared at a court hearing in Kazan, at which judges ordered her to be placed under arrest until December 5. If found guilty on current charges, she faces up to five years of prison.

“IPI condemns the arrest of Alsu Kurmasheva as the latest attempt by Russian authorities to intimidate any and all journalists whose work challenges or contradicts official narratives”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “It is highly disturbing that the authorities took advantage of an urgent trip home for family reasons to detain a journalist who is normally based outside the country precisely to avoid arbitrary arrest. We demand Kurmasheva’s immediate release, as well as that of all other Russian journalists held behind bars.”

An editor with RFE/RL, a media outlet financed by the United States, Kurmasheva worked with one of the outlet’s regional services that publishes news in local languages for Russia’s ethnic Tatar and Bashkir minority groups. The journalist is normally based at the headquarters of the Tatar-Bashkir Service of RFE/RL in Prague.

According to Russian lawyer Maksim Krupsky, the arrest of Kurmasheva is “surprising”, as it appears to be the first case in which authorities pressed charges against a journalist for not voluntarily registering as a “foreign agent”. To date, nearly all Russian public figures with this status have received it from authorities, and there are no known cases of a Russian citizen asking to be included on the “foreign agent” list.

For this reason, Kurmasheva’s arrest could herald “the development of new mechanisms of pressure on representatives of the journalistic community involved in military issues,” Krupsky said in a legal analysis of the case published by Forbes Russia.

According to the lawyer, Kurmasheva’s arrest shows that Russian authorities now de facto consider any journalists or other citizens, Russian or foreign alike, to be “criminals” from the moment they collect and publish any type of open-source information about the Russian military or the war in Ukraine, among other topics. As a result, even more journalists and other citizens now face backlash from authorities for any type of criticism of the war.

As of October 2023, no fewer than five journalists remain behind bars in Russia for having reported on the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to IPI monitoring. This includes Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested in March while on a reporting trip in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where he was collecting material for an article on recruitment efforts by private military company Wagner.

Similarly to Kurmasheva, Gershkovich is an American citizen, with the U.S. government having confirmed that it had been in contact with authorities in Russia on a possible prisoner swap with the aim of having Gershkovich released.