New York, May 23, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the continued harassment of Yuri Bagrov, a North Caucasus correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). A Federal Security Service (FSB) agent prevented Bagrov from covering an opposition rally on Friday, then followed him back to his office and threatened him, the correspondent told CPJ in a telephone interview today.
An opposition demonstration against local government corruption attracted 700 people in downtown Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital, on Friday. When Bagrov tried to interview one of the rally organizers, an FSB agent ordered the reporter to stop the interview because he was “violating the Russian media law by working without the appropriate press accreditation,” Bagrov said. When Bagrov tried to contest the order, the agent “promised him troubles” if he did not obey. Bagrov said he recorded the conversation and intended to include it in his report for RFE/RL.
A Russian court pulled Bagrov’s passport and press credentials late last year as part of a politicized criminal prosecution.
Shortly after Bagrov returned to his office on Friday, he said, the agent entered the premises and demanded the tape be erased. The agent said Bagrov would have “very big problems, much bigger than the ones he has already dealt with,” the journalist told CPJ. “I was forced to erase my recordings,” Bagrov told CPJ. “For a moment, I did succumb to the intimidation, fearing for the safety of my family.”
A day earlier, Vladikavkaz police and the FSB prevented Bagrov from covering the second hearing in the trial of Nurpashi Kulayev, the only survivor among the armed fighters who took more than 1,000 children, parents, and teachers hostage in a public school in Beslan in September 2004. Last Thursday, a police officer and several plainclothes FSB officers stopped Bagrov at the North Ossetian Supreme Court entrance and told him he could not proceed to the hearing because he lacked Foreign Ministry accreditation.
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. He 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.
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 discs, 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.
In February, an official from the Interior Ministry’s Passport and Visa Service in Vladikavkaz summoned Bagrov to the passport office to inform him of an FSB-issued order for his deportation. However, the Passport and Visa Service did not find Bagrov in violation of any laws that could lead to deportation.
This month, Human Rights Watch awarded Bagrov the Hellman/Hammett Grant for writers worldwide who have been victims of political persecution.