Memorial recognized Radio Liberty journalist Alsa Kurmasheva, who was detained in Russia on October 18, 2023, as a political prisoner and has been in a pre-trial detention center for almost a month and a half. Idel.Realii reported this on Thursday, November 30.
Kurmasheva is accused of failing to report herself as a “foreign agent” – the Radio Liberty journalist became the first against whom this article of the Criminal Code was used in Russia. Alsou has lived in Prague with her husband and children for more than 20 years, she has US and Russian citizenship, the main topic of her publications is the protection of the rights of ethnic groups in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, educational projects, the preservation and protection of the Tatar language and culture from pressure from the Russian authorities . At the end of May 2023, Kurmasheva came to Tatarstan for family reasons and was stopped at the airport, and a few months later she was arrested in a criminal case under Part 3 of Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. While the journalist’s arrest is until December 5, she faces up to five years in prison.
“We consider this persecution to be illegal in nature.”
“We consider the prosecution itself under Part 3 of Article 330.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia to be illegal in nature. We consider this article itself, the institution of “foreign agency” as a whole, as well as the connection with the so-called “collection of military-technical information” to be illegal,” – Sergei Davidis, head of the human rights project “Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial,” commented on the decision to recognize Kurmasheva as a political prisoner.
“The illegality of this norm is due to the fact that, in fact, punishment is intended not for non-declaration, but for carrying out legal activities. The information about the collection in question does not constitute a state secret. Their collection is not prohibited,” explains Davidis. “At the same time, the order The FSB, which deciphers the concepts of this information, defines this circle very broadly: it includes absolutely everything that is at least in some way related to the sphere of security, defense capability, military activities… These are socially significant issues that should and can be discussed completely unhindered in a democratic society. It is clear that society in Russia is now undemocratic, but we cannot agree with this and consider this the norm.”
Davidis called the construction of the charges against Alsou Kurmasheva “artificial” and noted that the political motivation of the case is visible even in the way the Russian authorities persecuted Alsou – first by not allowing her to leave the country in May, and then by putting her in a pre-trial detention center: “The initial detention and sentence according to the declaration second citizenship and only after that – after obvious deliberation and search for a reason – criminal prosecution under this new article.”
Who does Memorial recognize as political prisoners?
The human rights project “Support for Political Prisoners. Memorial” recognizes prisoners as political, guided by criteria developed by human rights activists from several Eastern European countries – including employees of the Memorial human rights center, which the Russian authorities “liquidated” through the courts. When developing the criteria, human rights activists relied on the experience of Amnesty International and the position of PACE on issues of political persecution.
According to these criteria, a person is considered a political prisoner if the true motive for his persecution by the state is not punishment for a crime or offense, but an attempt to stop his public activities or maintain power. There are currently 622 people on Memorial’s list of political prisoners. A total of 1,425 people have been on this list since 2009.
“We have been doing this for quite a long time, Memorial has been keeping a list of political prisoners since 2008, and lobbying for this topic is one of our most important tasks. And our authorities don’t like it. Actually, the list of political prisoners, which included people whom the authorities call “ “extremists” and “terrorists,” was one of the reasons for the liquidation of “Memorial,” Alexander Cherkasov, a member of the board of the human rights center “Memorial,” spoke about the procedure for recognizing those arrested in Russia as political prisoners in an interview with Present Time. “And, for example, such a monstrous sentence as he received “Vladimir Kara-Murza, 25 years old, is associated not only with the fact that he lobbied for the issue of sanctions, but was also one of the most active people promoting the issue of political prisoners in Europe and in the States. We will continue this work.”
Commenting directly on Kurmasheva’s case, Cherkasov said that Memorial will “fight for her, as well as for other political prisoners”:
“Firstly, this article itself makes this matter political. Secondly, Alsou is a hostage, like Evan Gershkovich. Yes, for people associated with American publications, with American organizations, it’s somehow better, apparently, in Don’t visit Russia, because we need hostages, we need to get out some of our own spies again,” the human rights activist said.
Radio Liberty journalist in a pre-trial detention center in Kazan
Alsou Kurmasheva, in letters from the Kazan pre-trial detention center, talks about the conditions in which she is imprisoned. The cell in which she is located is designed for four people. In her letters, Kurmasheva says that the room is cold: “I sleep better with a bottle of hot water.” For a walk, the arrested are taken to a closed courtyard – “an area 4 by 6 meters.” You can shower twice a week. Communication with the outside world is through letters that undergo prison censorship.
It is not yet clear whether any investigative actions are being carried out with Alsou Kurmasheva. It is known that she was charged on October 26; she does not admit guilt. The defense and she herself insisted on visiting the US consul: Kurmasheva is a citizen of the United States. A month after the journalist’s arrest, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov commented on her case. When asked about consular access, he replied that “this is a question for the relevant structures,” and stated: “I just want to say in this regard that Ms. Kurmasheva is a citizen of the Russian Federation. And, accordingly, this is not identical to this or those situations when The person concerned only has citizenship of the United States of America.”
On November 29, the human rights organization Reporters Without Borders, the Coalition of Women in Journalism, the National Press Club, the Committee to Protect Journalists and 10 other organizations called on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “expedite the process and immediately declare” journalist Tatar- Bashkir service of Radio Liberty Alsu Kurmashev “wrongfully detained.”
“It is our understanding that Russia has not formally notified the State Department of her detention, but the United States must not delay in taking the necessary steps despite the likely delaying tactics of (Russia). We are deeply concerned that as a result of this delay, Alsou is still unable to receive US consular support,” the statement said.