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Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American journalist, is detained by Russia

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Russian government has detained an American citizen who worked for the U.S.-government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

State Department spokesman Matt Miller says the U.S. government has not yet officially been notified about the arrest.

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MATT MILLER: This appears to be another case of the Russian government harassing U.S. citizens, which is why we continue to have a Level 4 travel warning and encourage all U.S. citizens not to travel to Russia for any reason.

MARTÍNEZ: Alsu Kurmasheva is now the second American journalist in Russian custody. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been jailed more than six months while he awaits trial on espionage charges, charges the Journal denies.

MARTIN: NPR's Philip Reeves is in Riga, in neighboring Latvia, and is following this latest case. And we've called him to ask him about it. Good morning, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So tell us more about this latest journalist to be detained.

REEVES: Well, she's an editor with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is funded by Congress and whose mission is to promote democratic values and a free press, particularly in areas where these are threatened. She's a dual citizen of the U.S. and Russia. She's also a mom, with a husband and two kids. She lives in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Her employers say that she covers ethnic minorities in the Russian republics of Bashkortostan and Tatarstan. And in fact, she was in Tatarstan's capital city, Kazan, when she was detained.

MARTIN: So what do the Russian authorities accuse her of doing?

REEVES: Well, her employers say that she traveled to Russia in May because of a family emergency, and they said when she tried to leave, soon after that, she was stopped at the airport and accused of failing to register her U.S. passport. Her passports were confiscated, and she'd been waiting for that issue to be resolved. And now the Russians have detained her on this other charge, that of failing to register as a foreign agent. Now, this is under a law which the authorities can label organizations and individuals as foreign agents if they receive funding from overseas and are engaged in political activities.

And here in Latvia, there are hundreds of independent Russian journalists who've moved here since the invasion of Ukraine because they can't operate safely or freely in Russia. I've spoken to a number of them, and they say many of them have been labeled foreign agents. And they say this law is a tool that Russia uses increasingly to intimidate its critics and silence the free media and civil society.

MARTIN: And what about - have we heard from Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe? Have they responded to this event?

REEVES: Yes, indeed. I mean, her employers are calling for her to be released immediately and to be allowed to go home. That same call is coming from the Committee to Protect Journalists. It's expressing deep concern. It says these criminal charges are spurious and are more proof that Russia's determined to stifle independent reporting. In fact, there's alarm and dismay over this coming from many quarters.

MARTIN: And obviously, you know, Brittney Griner, the basketball star, is not a journalist. But there's certainly echoes of that here. If this journalist is convicted, what could happen to her?

REEVES: Well, this charge carries a variety of different potential penalties, the maximum of which is a prison sentence of five years. Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use them as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. You mentioned the case of Brittney Griner. She was released in December after President Biden negotiated a prisoner swap with Vladimir Putin. Obviously, Kurmasheva's employers and family will be hoping things don't reach that stage.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Riga. Philip, thanks.

REEVES: You're welcome.

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MARTIN: Good morning. I'm Michel Martin. When Robin Sipes went to see her pulmonologist last month, she told him her cat had died, and she was feeling down. So Dr. Earl King wrote her a prescription - get a cat. Dr. King said that pets can improve mental health and alleviate feelings of loneliness. So Sipes followed instructions, and on her way back from the appointment, she saw a kitten who needed a home. She took her in and named her after the doctor - Earlene.

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MARTIN: It's MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.