Russia has detained an editor at US-funded Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty for failing to register as a foreign agent while visiting for a family emergency, the broadcaster said.
Russia has tightened its control over information and the media since the start of Ukraine war, forcing the closure of the last significant independent news outlets and designating many journalists and activists as “foreign agents”.
Since the arrest of The Wall Street Journal correspondent Evan Gershkovich in March on spying charges, almost all US journalists have left Russia, and Washington has repeatedly urged other Americans to leave.
“This appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing US citizens,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said at a briefing.
“We have not been officially notified by the government of Russia about this arrest.”
Alsu Kurmasheva, who works for RFE-RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service and holds US and Russian passports, entered Russia on May 20.
As she awaited her return flight on June 2, she was detained and her passports were confiscated. She was later fined for failing to declare her US passport.
On October 18, authorities announced that Ms Kurmasheva, 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, designates organisations, journalists, activists and even entertainers deemed to be politically active 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.”
The Tatar-Inform news agency said Ms Kurmasheva had been gathering information on Russian military activity. She could be jailed for up to five years, according to RFE-RL.
The Russian government has not publicly commented on the arrest.
RFE-RL, 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 the US Congress and during the Cold War broadcast news behind the Iron Curtain. RFE-RL's own history says the US CIA was involved in the station until 1972.
The UN Human Rights Office called for Ms Kurmasheva's “prompt and unconditional” release, adding: “Journalists must be left to do their vital work free from pressure, intimidation and reprisals."
The Committee to Protect Journalists said the charges against Ms Kurmasheva were “spurious”.
“Journalism is not a crime and Kurmasheva’s detention is yet more proof that Russia is determined to stifle independent reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia co-ordinator.