CPJ disturbed by journalist’s conviction

New York, December 17, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that authorities in the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia have prosecuted and convicted Yuri Bagrov, a reporter who covered the North Caucasus and Chechnya for The Associated Press (AP) until September.

The Leninsky court in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia’s capital, today convicted Bagrov on criminal charges of using falsified documents to obtain Russian citizenship and fined him 15,000 rubles (US$540).

Bagrov, who is originally from Georgia, told CPJ today that authorities invalidated his passport, making him a convicted criminal vulnerable to deportation.

Bagrov said that his lawyer, Aleksandr Dzilikhov, will appeal the case on Monday to the republic’s Supreme Court.

“We are very disturbed that the prosecution and conviction of Yuri Bagrov may be in retaliation for his journalistic work,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on President Vladimir Putin to personally ensure that the charges against Bagrov are not politically motivated.”

On August 25, agents from the local FSB branch raided Bagrov’s apartment, his office, and his mother’s apartment.

FSB agents presented a court order authorizing them to search for weapons, ammunition, drugs, and forgery-related items. They confiscated Bagrov’s passport and other personal documents, personal and work computers, computer disks, film, tape recorder and tapes, and his wife’s diaries, according to local and international press reports.

Several unidentified men followed him for several days after the raid, Bagrov said.

On October 5, a local prosecutor summoned his wife for questioning. Later that day, Bagrov learned that he had been charged on September 17 with knowingly using forged documents.

Bagrov and some colleagues question the motive for the investigation. The investigation was launched at a politically sensitive time for the Kremlin, several days ahead of Chechnya’s August 29 presidential elections when Russian authorities were eager to hide voting irregularities.

Because FSB agents had confiscated Bagrov’s travel documents in the August 25 raid, he was unable to travel to Chechnya to report on the elections.

Bagrov has reported for the AP since 1999, writing numerous stories that included closely held casualty figures for Russian military and police forces in Chechnya, information that sometimes differed from the official figures provided by Russian officials.

Bagrov is also known for investigative reporting, including a February 10 story on the radicalization of Chechen rebels and a May 24 story on a wave of mysterious abductions in the southern republic of Ingushetia.

Bagrov has also reported for the Russian Service of the RFE/RL.