CPJ disturbed that journalist’s appeal denied

New York, January 21, 2005—The Supreme Court of the southern Russian republic of North Ossetia upheld on Wednesday, January 19, the conviction of Yuri Bagrov on criminal charges of using forged documents to obtain Russian citizenship. The court also fined him 15,000 rubles (US$530).

“We are very concerned that the harassment and prosecution of Bagrov comes in retaliation for his independent reporting on the conflict in Chechnya,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ensure that local authorities protect Bagrov, allow him to continue working as a journalist, and ensure that the charges against him are not politically motivated.”

Bagrov, an ethnic Russian who reported for The Associated Press (AP) and moved from Georgia to Russia in 1992, was originally convicted by a lower court on December 17, 2004. On December 29, local authorities expelled Bagrov from a press conference being held by North Ossetia’s president because security officials had earlier revoked his press accreditation without explanation.

Later that month, Bagrov’s wife, Marina, who is pregnant, received several anonymous phone calls from a man asking for “Bagrov’s widow.”

On August 25, 2004, 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. Also during that time, unidentified assailants stole Marina Bagrova’s passport, she told CPJ.

On October 5, a local prosecutor summoned Bagrova 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, which was launched at a politically sensitive time for the Kremlin, several days ahead of Chechnya’s August 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.

Bagrov is also known for investigative reporting, including a February 10, 2004, story on the radicalization of Chechen rebels and a May 24, 2004, 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.

Because authorities have confiscated his passport and press accreditation, Bagrov is stranded in Vladikavkaz, unable to work as a journalist, and vulnerable to extradition.