Husband of American Journalist Jailed in Russia Brings Campaign to Washington

Washington — The husband and two daughters of an American journalist jailed in Russia are in Washington this week to call on the U.S. government to do more to help secure the reporter’s release. 

Alsu Kurmasheva, a dual U.S.-Russian national, has been jailed in Russia since October 2023 on charges of failing to register as a so-called foreign agent and spreading what Moscow views as false information about the Russian army. 

Kurmasheva is a Prague-based editor at the Tatar-Bashkir service of VOA’s sister outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL. The journalist and her employer reject the charges, which carry a combined maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Since Kurmasheva’s jailing, her husband, Pavel Butorin, has consistently called for her immediate release. He and their daughters traveled from Prague to Washington this week as part of the campaign to secure Kurmasheva’s release.  

“I’m here because I think that the U.S. government can and should do more for her release,” Butorin told VOA.  

Butorin is the director of Current Time TV, a Russian-language TV and digital network led by RFE/RL in partnership with VOA.

While in Washington, Butorin met with State Department officials, but he did not specify to VOA what was discussed during those meetings.  

“We are making — I will say, cautiously — some progress toward the designation of Alsu as a wrongfully detained American journalist,” Butorin said. “I appreciate the support and attention that Alsu’s case has been given by the administration.” 

For months, Butorin, RFE/RL and international press freedom groups have called on the State Department to declare Kurmasheva wrongfully detained, which would open up additional resources to help secure her release.  

Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately reply to a VOA email requesting comment.  

Kurmasheva is one of two American journalists jailed in Russia.  

The other — The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich — has been jailed in Russia since March 2023 on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government deny. The 32-year-old is set to mark one year behind bars on March 29.

The State Department has declared Gershkovich wrongfully detained. 

A State Department spokesperson said U.S. officials have pressed the Russian government for access to Kurmasheva, but those requests have not yet been granted.

“We are deeply concerned about Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention,” the spokesperson told VOA in a statement.  

“The Department of State continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of U.S. nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful,” the spokesperson said regarding a potential wrongful detention determination. 

“I’ve been, again, assured that Alsu’s case is a priority. I’ve heard U.S. officials say that they do think that she is a political prisoner, and they’re working hard on her release,” Butorin said.  

Butorin added that the most just resolution would be for Moscow to drop the charges against his wife, who initially traveled to Russia in May 2023 for a family emergency. Her passports were confiscated when she tried to leave the country in June, and she was waiting for them to be returned when she was detained in October.  

“The charges are absurd — spurious. She’s not a criminal. We know her as a devoted mother to her daughters,” Butorin said. He added that the situation has taken a toll on their two children. 

“My daughters have had to grow up very quickly over these past nine months. It’s been an incredibly stressful situation for our family,” he said. “They want their mother back.”

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