Russian court extends detention of Russian-US journalist Kurmasheva

(This May 31 story has been corrected to amend an attribution error in paragraphs 1, 14, and 15)

KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - A Russian court on Friday extended by two months the pre-trial detention of Alsu Kurmasheva, a Russian-American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalist, in a move her husband said was unjust and showed Washington needed to help her.

Kurmasheva, a mother of two, is a Prague-based journalist and has been in custody in her native Russian region of Tatarstan since Oct. 18. She was earlier briefly detained in June while trying to fly out of Russia after visiting her mother.

A court first found her guilty of failing to declare that she had a U.S. passport, mandatory under Russian law, and fined her. She was then charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent", an offence that carries up to five years in jail and one to which she has pleaded not guilty.

Tatar-Inform, a state-affiliated media outlet, has suggested that she is also formally accused of deliberately gathering military information that could be used against Russia and of spreading false information about the Russian army.

Kurmasheva was the second U.S. media representative to be held in Russia since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022. The Wall Street Journal's Evan Gershkovich is also being held, in his case on espionage charges, which he denies.

RFE/RL, which says Kurmasheva's detention is unjust, is funded by the U.S. Congress. Russia has designated it as a "foreign agent," a classification that carries negative Cold War overtones.

The Kremlin has denied there is any campaign against Americans in Russia.

Dressed in a denim jacket and white T-shirt, Kurmasheva, 47, told reporters from a glass courtroom cage in the city of Kazan that she suffered from various health conditions which could not be properly treated in detention.

She said she had last heard her children's voices in October of last year as she was not allowed any phone calls. Letters took one and a half months to arrive, she added.

At one point, she held up two children's drawings for reporters which she said had been sent to her and had lifted her spirits.

"Given that it looks like it's the only grass and trees that I'll see this summer it's priceless," she said, adding that she was being kept in a 10-person cell.

She gave a weary smile and looked up after the presiding judge announced she would stay in pre-trial detention until Aug. 5.

Pavel Butorin, her husband, said on X: "Alsu is not a criminal. She’s not an activist, not a member of the Russian opposition, and presents no threat to the Russian government. Alsu doesn’t belong in prison. She doesn’t belong in Russia.

"Alsu and her family rely on the U.S. government to mobilize the resources necessary to secure her safe release."

RFE/RL President and CEO Stephen Capus said in a statement after the decision that her prosecution was needless and cruel.

"Alsu's fundamental rights as an American citizen are being denied by Russian authorities who have now imprisoned her for 227 days," he said.

Her lawyer, Rim Sabirov, said he would appeal Friday's ruling and request that Kurmasheva be placed under house arrest with her relatives in Kazan, pending her trial.

"It's not clear why she needs to be isolated from society," he said.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Andrew Heavens; Writing by Andrew Osborn in London; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Andrew Heavens)