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Continued Harassment of Reporter Bad Signal for U.S.-Russian Summit Says RFE/RL

(Washington, DC–February 17, 2005) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) President Thomas A. Dine today expressed dismay at the continuing campaign of Russian authorities against RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Yuri Bagrov, who reports on Chechnya and the North Caucasus region.

Dine said news that the Russian Federal Security Service is ordering Bagrov’s deportation from his home in North Ossetia is “an ill-considered and defensive move,” that tells the world about Russia’s insecurity and fear of public exposure and openness. “Coming, as it does, a week before the U.S.-Russian summit, this escalation of harassment of an honest, well-trained journalist shows blatant disregard for freedom of the press, for Yuri Bagrov’s right to do his job, and sends a clear signal to the international community,” Dine said, adding: “It tells us the Russian government cares more about silencing an RFE/RL reporter in an unstable area than it cares about basic human rights and democratic public opinion.”

Bagrov was summoned earlier this week to the Russian Interior Ministry’s passport and visa office in his hometown Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia and informed that he will be deported on the grounds that he is “residing illegally” in Russia. Bagrov says Interior Ministry officials told him a court order would be issued for his deportation and that the decision had come from the head of the Federal Security Service’s branch in North Ossetia, Alexander Tachko.

Bagrov, a former Associated Press reporter, has worked for RFE/RL for more than five years, mostly reporting on the wars in Chechnya. “He is an able reporter and valued colleague and we’d like to see him get his passport back and return fully to his job,” Dine said.

Russian authorities first moved against Bagrov on August 25, 2004, four days before the presidential election in Chechnya, raiding his home and confiscating his computer, diary, journalistic notes, and personal documents. His possessions were returned two weeks later except for his passport, without which he cannot travel anywhere to cover the news.

The next step in the campaign was to accuse Bagrov of falsifying documents to get his new passport in 2003. In December a court in Vladikavkaz found Bagrov guilty of using false documents to obtain Russian citizenship. The North Ossetian Supreme Court upheld the conviction in January, fining Bagrov 15,000 rubles (about $540).

Bagrov steadfastly denies the charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists published an appeal to President Putin this week to protect Bagrov, ensure that charges against him are not politically motivated, and allow him to continue working as a journalist. Reporters Without Borders has also spoken out in support of Bagrov.

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