(NEW YORK) – PEN America strongly condemns the detention by the Russian government of Alsu Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), for failing to register as a “foreign agent.” If convicted, Kurmasheva would be the first person ever arrested on charges of violating Russia’s foreign agents law, which carries a penalty of up to 5 years in prison. Kurmasheva, who holds both Russian and U.S. citizenship, was in Russia for a family emergency.
“Clearly, Alsu Kurmasheva is being punished for the ‘crime’ of working in a free speech profession. As astonishing as it sounds, in today’s Russia, simply exercising one’s right to free speech can land you in prison. We call on the US government to do everything in its power to facilitate the immediate release of Kurmasheva so that she can return home to her children and family,” said Polina Sadovskaya, Advocacy and Eurasia Director at PEN America.
Established in 2012, Russia’s foreign agents law initially targeted non-governmental organizations involved in “political activities” and receiving foreign funds. It has since been expanded several times, including shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when it was extended to include anyone working “under foreign influence.”
“The Kremlin must not be allowed to continue employing the foreign agents law, which, in addition to extinguishing independent thought and cultural expression in Russia, inspires similar repressive behavior in the broader region, including in Georgia, Belarus, Hungry, and Poland, and in countries as far away as Egypt and Nicaragua.
“Kurmasheva’s reporting on the problems of national minorities in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, and her dedication to preserving the Tatar language and culture, would certainly have attracted negative attention from the Russian authorities. On top of that, her role as editor of “No to War,” a collection of stories by forty Russian opponents of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, would have increased the government’s disapproval, especially as it seeks to promote the narrative of a greater, unified, powerful Russia.
“The fact that Kurmasheva holds both Russian and U.S. citizenship certainly factors in her detention because, like the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who has been held since March, Kurmasheva can potentially be used as a bargaining chip.
“Journalists and writers play a crucial role in our efforts to understand the present and envision a more promising future. They should never be used as pawns of war.”
About PEN America
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more, visit PEN.org.
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