Interior Ministry says journalist will not be deported

New York, February 22, 2005—The Interior Ministry in North Ossetia says a journalist recently ordered deported by the Federal Security Service may instead stay in Russia and reapply for citizenship, according to local press reports.

But the apparent shift does not lift any of the restrictions that have prevented Yuri Bagrov—who has covered the North Caucasus for The Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty—from reporting for the last six months. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Russian government to take genuine steps to allow Bagrov to report freely.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement on Friday saying that Bagrov is officially registered as a resident in North Ossetia and may lawfully remain in the republic, the online Moscow-based news Web site reported. The statement came days after CPJ and other free press groups protested Bagrov’s pending deportation.

But Bagrov told CPJ today that he remains frustrated by the Interior Ministry position. He noted that the ministry’s statement does not remove any of the obstacles that have prevented him from reporting. His passport was confiscated during a Federal Security Service (FSB) investigation last year, leaving him without the identification needed to cover local news events or the documents required for travel outside the regional capital, Vladikavkaz.

Bagrov was convicted in December 2004 on criminal charges of using falsified documents to obtain Russian citizenship after he moved from Georgia to North Ossetia more than a decade ago. CPJ has questioned whether the conviction was politically motivated, noting that the FSB probe was launched after Bagrov wrote a number of politically sensitive stories. The journalist lost an appeal in January before the Supreme Court of North Ossetia, and learned last week that the FSB wanted him deported.

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 reported for The Associated Press from 1999 to September 2004, 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 his 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.