Eight U.S. lawmakers have called on the State Department to designate American Russian journalist Alsu Kurmasheva as “wrongfully detained.”
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the lawmakers, led by Democrats Eleanor Holmes Norton and Adam Schiff, requested updates on Kurmasheva, who has been detained in Russia since October 18.
The Prague-based editor for the Tatar-Bashkir service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, was detained while in Russia handling a family emergency.
Russian authorities accuse Kurmasheva of failing to register as a foreign agent, which she rejects. A court Friday ordered her held until February. If convicted, Kurmasheva could be jailed for up to five years.
The U.S. lawmakers requested information on the State Department’s efforts to secure consular access. Russia has so far denied such requests.
They urged the State Department to designate the Russian journalist as “wrongfully detained.”
“Based on the facts that are known, we believe a formal designation is warranted and remains important to ensure the full engagement of the U.S. government and the provision of all relevant resources to support Ms. Kurmasheva and her family as efforts continue to return her to her loved ones as soon as possible,” the letter said.
The State Department designated jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich as wrongfully detained within two weeks of the American’s arrest in Russia.
Russian authorities accuse Gershkovich of espionage, which he and his media outlet deny.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Monday that calls for the United States to designate someone as wrongfully detained is “a matter we take very seriously here,” adding that the government has to look at statutory requirements and other available information.
“No one should read anything into the lack of other wrongful detention determinations,” Miller said, adding that it is an “ongoing, active process inside the United States government.”
On Monday, Gershkovich marked 250 days in a Russian prison. A court last week extended his detention to January 30.
Wall Street Journal journalist Paul Beckett sees similarities in the case of his colleagues Gershkovich and Kurmasheva.
“To me, they’re both journalists who have been grabbed by the Russians for leverage over the United States,” said Beckett, who is leading the newspaper’s campaign to secure Gershkovich’s release.
Kurmasheva’s husband, Pavel Butorin, has said the wrongfully detained designation could give the family access to greater resources to help free his wife.
“I’m convinced that Alsu’s being targeted because she’s an American citizen and because she is a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,” Butorin told VOA last week.
Butorin is the director of Current Time TV, a Russian-language TV and digital network led by RFE/RL in partnership with VOA.
Kurmasheva’s family and colleagues have pressed the U.S. for help to secure her release.
“We would like to see more involvement from the United States government and from other parties, as well from the European Union and from human rights organizations,” Butorin said.
U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) chief executive Amanda Bennett on Friday said it was “crucial” for Kurmasheva’ to be officially designated wrongfully detained “so that her case can receive the time and attention it deserves.”
USAGM is an independent global media agency that oversees Voice of America and five other broadcasting entities.
“Every day that Alsu Kurmasheva remains behind bars is a tragedy for her husband and two young children, her community, and journalists everywhere,” said Bennett in a prepared statement.
VOA State Department bureau chief Nike Ching contributed to this report.