CPJ concerned about journalist’s pending deportation

New York, February 15, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed that the Russian government is planning to deport Yuri Bagrov, a journalist who has covered the North Caucasus for The Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in retaliation for his independent reporting on the war in the southern Russian republic of Chechnya.

An official from the Interior Ministry’s Passport and Visa Service in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz came to Bagrov’s office today and summoned him to the passport office tomorrow morning to be informed of his pending deportation, Bagrov said in a telephone interview with CPJ today.

The official told Bagrov that the Federal Security Services (FSB) has issued a document declaring that he is “residing illegally in the Russian Federation,” and that the Leninsky Court in Vladikavkaz will issue an order regarding his deportation. Bagrov does not know to where he will be deported.

In December, the Leninsky Court convicted Bagrov on criminal charges of knowingly using falsified documents to obtain Russian citizenship. The journalist appealed the verdict in January before the Supreme Court of North Ossetia but lost the appeal.

Bagrov has received death threats, is being prevented from working as a journalist by local authorities, and is unable to travel outside Vladikavkaz because government officials have invalidated and confiscated his identity documents.

“We are alarmed by the Russian government’s efforts to deport Yuri Bagrov and call on President Vladimir Putin to ensure that local authorities protect him, provide him with identity papers, allow him to continue working as a journalist, and ensure that the charges against him are not politically motivated,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

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 his wife’s passport.

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.