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'That's How My Days Are Spent': RFE/RL Journalist Alsu Kurmasheva Writes From Jail

RFE/RL's Alsu Kurmasheva sits in a cage in a courtroom in Kazan, Russia, on October 20. The court ordered her held in custody until at least December 5.
RFE/RL's Alsu Kurmasheva sits in a cage in a courtroom in Kazan, Russia, on October 20. The court ordered her held in custody until at least December 5.

“We were taken out to walk today in a yard that is roughly 4 meters by 6 meters,” RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva wrote recently from the Kazan remand prison where she has been held now for one month. “We ran 40 laps, which I figure is about 1,000 meters. Then there was stretching and squats. The guard was quite surprised. Apparently, this rarely happens.”

Kurmasheva's description of her cramped prison-yard exercise session contrasted sharply with the message that her husband, journalist Pavel Butorin -- who is the head of Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, and who, like Kurmasheva, works at RFE/RL’s Prague headquarters -- posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on November 17.

Butorin wrote that Kurmasheva traditionally marks the Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day holiday in the Czech Republic by “joining her family and friends on a traditional ‘freedom walk’ reenacting the 1989 student march that sparked the Velvet Revolution” and helped bring down the repressive communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Kurmasheva, a dual citizen of Russia and the United States who has worked for RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service for some 25 years, left Prague in mid-May to attend to a family emergency in her native Tatarstan.

WATCH: The husband of the RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained in Russia on October 18, has said she is a "political prisoner." Kurmasheva holds both Russian and U.S. citizenship. Her husband, Pavel Butorin, also works from the RFE/RL offices in Prague, where he is head of Current Time.

Husband Of Detained U.S. Journalist In Russia Says His Wife Is A 'Political Prisoner'
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She was detained on October 18 and charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," a legal designation Russia has used since 2012 to label and punish critics of government policies. It has also been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

A court ordered her held in custody at Kazan’s SIZO-2 remand prison until at least December 5, although it is customary in Russia for such detention periods to be extended repeatedly.

She has been able to correspond with family, friends, and supporters, although all messages are subject to censorship.

“We get up every morning in SIZO at 6 a.m.,” she wrote. “But the lights are on dimly in the cell all night. Breakfast is porridge and sweet, black tea. After that, we clean the cell -- the floors, the walls. At lunchtime, we are allowed to go outside for one hour.”

Alsu Kurmasheva
Alsu Kurmasheva

“There is a library, but it is closed,” Kurmasheva wrote. “There were about 10 books in the cell, mostly detective stories and books about Christianity, as well as a few on psychology and self-acceptance.”

“I reread your letters several times a day,” she told one of her correspondents. “I have already read two books that were in the cell. I requested some more, but don’t know how long it will take.”

Twice a week, detainees are allowed to take a shower. Kurmasheva says she was allowed to use the shower for the first time only 10 days after her detention.

Her cell, which holds four prisoners, is cold, she wrote in several of her messages.

Kurmasheva added that she is studying Armenian and the North Caucasus language of Dargwa to pass the time. In addition, she said, she is teaching one of her cellmates to speak Tatar.

“That is how my days are spent,” she wrote.

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.

Written by RFE/RL’s Robert Coalson based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Idel.Realities

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