Journalist’s deportation delayed

New York, February 16, 2005—A journalist ordered deported by the Russian security service was allowed to stay in Russia temporarily because officials in the passport office told him they could find no legal basis to expel him.

Yuri Bagrov, who has covered the North Caucasus for The Associated Press and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was summoned to the Interior Ministry’s Passport and Visa Service in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz this morning.

An official showed Bagrov a letter from the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in North Ossetia to North Ossetia’s acting interior minister ordering Bagrov’s deportation because he does not have Russian citizenship. But according to Bagrov, officials at the Passport and Visa Service have not found him to be in violation of any laws that could lead to deportation.

Bagrov was not allowed to copy the letter, which contained no information about when or to where the journalist should be deported.

The passport official told Bagrov that he will consult with the FSB about the matter. The journalist may face fines of up to 3,000 rubles (US$107) for residing in Russia without proper identity documents.

In December 2004, the Leninsky Court in Vladikavkaz convicted Bagrov on criminal charges of knowingly using falsified documents to obtain Russian citizenship. Government officials confiscated and invalidated his passport. The journalist appealed the verdict in January before the Supreme Court of North Ossetia but lost the appeal.

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.