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Journalists in Trouble: Russian Authorities Declare RFE/RL an “Undesirable Organization”

RFE/RL declared “undesirable” in Russia; Russian court upholds Alsu Kurmasheva’s detention; Kazakh authorities block accreditation to RFE/RL journalists; and more.

Ukraine — RFE/RL president Stephen Capus meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, February 26, 2024.

RUSSIA: Authorities Declare RFE/RL an “Undesirable Organization”

On February 20, Russian authorities labeled RFE/RL an “undesirable organization,” exposing its journalists, sources, and others working with the organization to possible prosecution and imprisonment.

RFE/RL President Stephen Capus said the designation is the latest example of how the Russian government views truthful reporting as an existential threat: “Millions of Russians have relied on us for decades—including record-breaking audiences over the past few days since the death of Aleksei Navalny—and this attempt to stifle us will only make RFE/RL work harder to bring free and independent journalism to the Russian people.”

The decision was condemned by Czech and EU officialsDeutsche Welle, and press freedom groups like the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Kremlin to stop harassing RFE/RL and added, “Russian authorities’ drive to persecute Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty runs deep, but so does the outlet’s commitment to delivering unbiased information to the Russian people.”

U.S. State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “We have seen Russia continue to crack down on a free press…It is quite clear that they do not want their people to have information about what the Russian regime does abroad, what the Russian regime does to its own people.”

RUSSIA: Court Rejects RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva’s Request for House Arrest

On February 20, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan upheld the wrongful detention of RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, but shortened it by one day, until April 4. Alsu’s lawyers had petitioned the court to move her to house arrest.

Alsu is an American journalist who lives in Prague, Czech Republic, with her husband and two young daughters. She traveled to Russia to care for her elderly, ailing mother. She was detained on October 18, 2023, and faces up to 15 years in prison on politically motivated charges.

ICYMI: RFE/RL is grateful to Czechia and 22 other governments for nominating Alsu for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano 2024 World Press Freedom Prize.

It’s all becoming less bearable,” Alsu wrote from a cold prison where she has already spent four months. The U.S. State Department has yet to designate Alsu as “wrongfully detained,” despite calls from her family15 civil society organizations, and two dozen members of Congress. RFE/RL supports these calls and urges Secretary Blinken to make the designation.

ICYMI: In her inaugural address as National Press Club president, Emily Wilkins called President Biden to action: “Thank you for the really lovely letter tonight, but I need more than a scrap of paper here…I call on you to bring all three detained American reporters home this year,” Wilkins said, referring to journalists Alsu Kurmasheva and Evan Gershkovich in Russia and Austin Tice in Syria. RFE/RL thanks her for her support. Watch here.

Alsu is one of four unjustly imprisoned RFE/RL journalists. Ihar Losik and Andrey Kuznechyk are held in Belarus while Vladyslav Yesypenko is imprisoned in Russia-occupied Crimea.

EVENT: Join RFE/RL, American Purpose, and the West End Neighborhood Library in Washington D.C. for an in-person event on Thursday, March 7, at 12:30 pm. “The Art of Hostage Negotiation & the Science of Arms Control” will mark the upcoming National Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day on March 9. Speakers include Alsu Kurmasheva’s husband Pavel Butorin and RFE/RL Editor-in-Chief Nicola Careem. Register here.

TAKE ACTION: We encourage you to join the call to #FreeAlsu on social media. Inspiration and sample language are available in this advocacy toolkit. If you are in the U.S., use this template to contact your elected officials about Alsu’s case. Stay informed by visiting the Free Alsu Kurmasheva page on RFE/RL’s website.

UKRAINE: RFE/RL President Meets President Zelenskiy, Discusses Imprisoned Journalist

RFE/RL President Stephen Capus met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 25 during a visit to Kyiv, Ukraine. When asked about the fate of RFE/RL journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko—who’s been behind bars in Russia-occupied Crimea on trumped up charges for nearly three years—Zelenskiy said freeing political prisoners in Crimea, “especially journalists,” is a priority and will be on the agenda of the upcoming inaugural Peace Summit in Switzerland.

“Vlad’s release would send a strong signal that people who speak the truth will not be forgotten despite these difficult times. We appreciate all efforts to ensure that Vlad returns to his wife Kateryna and daughter Stefania as soon as possible,” Capus told the Ukrainian leader.

ICYMI: On February 16, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Oleksandr Syrskyi visited injured RFE/RL journalist Dmytro Yevshyn in hospital. Last month, Yevshyn was struck and injured by Russian artillery fire in southern Ukraine while filming a story on the front lines of the war. Syrskyi presented Yevshyn with a thank you note and a commemorative medal. RFE/RL President Stephen Capus also paid Dmytro a visit while in Kyiv in February.

KAZAKHSTAN: RFE/RL Challenges Mass Accreditation Denials in Court

On February 26, a Bishkek court heard RFE/RL’s appeal challenging Kazakh authorities’ decision to deny accreditation to 36 journalists with RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, Radio Azattyq. Several RFE/RL correspondents have been awaiting accreditation since 2022.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute reported on Radio Azattyq’s accreditation issues. CPJ issued the following statement: “RFE/RL’s Kazakh service is well known for its hard-hitting and dependable reporting. The mass denial of accreditation to the outlet’s journalists by authorities on such contrived grounds is deeply concerning and seriously undermines President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s stated commitment to freedom of the press.” RFE/RL thanks them for their support.

In February, RFE/RL President Stephen Capus traveled to Kazakhstan to advocate for the Service and press freedom in the country.

BELARUS: RFE/RL Marks One Year of Ihar Losik’s Incommunicado Detention

For one year, RFE/RL journalist Ihar Losik has been held incommunicado by Belarusian authorities. His family last received a letter from him on February 20, 2023. Since then, they have faced only silence, uncertainty, and fear for Ihar’s life. To mark this grim milestone, Ihar’s colleagues published a video signifying his forced silence. Watch here.

TAKE ACTION: We encourage you to write to Ihar. Although letters may not be delivered, they demonstrate continued outside interest to the Belarusian authorities.

My name is Deniz Yuksel, Advocacy Manager here at RFE/RL and the author of Journalists in Trouble. Thank you for reading our newsletter and for standing with persecuted journalists.

If you are interested in collaborating to amplify the stories of our imprisoned journalists, you can reach me by emailing