Belarusian Imprisoned For Sending Cash To Opposition Groups

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has slammed a Russian court ruling to extend the pretrial detention of RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva until June 5, calling the country’s crackdown on independent media “unacceptable.”

Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenship, has been held in Russian custody since October 18 on a charge of violating the so-called “foreign agent” law.

RFE/RL and the U.S. government say the charge is a reprisal for her work as journalist for RFE/RL. She had traveled to Russia to visit and care for her elderly mother and was initially detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at Kazan airport, where her passports were confiscated.

The Sovetsky District Court of Kazan on April 1 extended her pretrial detention by two months and also rejected a request by Kurmasheva’s lawyers to have her restriction switched to house arrest.

“We are deeply concerned about the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva in the Russian Federation, which the court extended,” Ambassador Lynne Tracy said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on April 2, adding that representatives from the embassy were present in court in Kazan.

“We will continue to seek consular access. The Kremlin’s encroachment on media freedom in Russia is unacceptable,” Tracy said.

Before the court proceedings, Kurmasheva told reporters that she is “not very well physically” and that her living conditions in detention “are very bad.” She added that she was receiving “minimal” medical care and that conditions in her cell were primitive, with a hole in the floor serving as a toilet.

Kurmasheva, 47, was arrested in Kazan last October and charged with failing to register as a “foreign agent” under a punitive Russian law that targets journalists, civil society activists, and others. She’s also been charged with spreading falsehoods about the Russian military and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Many critics and rights group say the so-called “foreign agent” law is used by the Kremlin to crack down on any dissent.

Moscow also has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States.

In February, 23 countries nominated Kurmasheva for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano 2024 World Press Freedom Prize.

The prize, created in 1997, is an annual award that honors a person or a group of people who make an “outstanding” contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom across the globe despite the “danger and persecution” they face.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

RFE/RL’s jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists — Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three — currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.

Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”

Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.

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