Russian authorities in Dagestan detain, question U.S. journalist

New York, March 31, 2006—Authorities in the southern republic of Dagestan have interrogated U.S. journalist Kelly McEvers in four prolonged sessions this week, confiscated her possessions, and instructed her not to leave the region, she told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a telephone interview today.

Police officers first detained McEvers at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the northeastern Dagestani city of Khasavyurt, she said. McEvers said she was taken to the Khasavyurt Interior Ministry headquarters, where police officers and Federal Security Service (FSB) agents questioned her for 10 hours about her research on terrorism in Dagestan. They confiscated a camera, dictaphone, computer disks and notebooks, she said. She was released at 4 a.m. Thursday morning.

On Thursday, McEvers returned to the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala, where she was staying at a local apartment. Upon entering the city by car, police detained McEvers and took her to the Makhachkala Interior Ministry’s Directorate for Battling Organized Crime (UBOP), where officials questioned her and searched her apartment from 4 to 10 p.m., she said. Law enforcement officials confiscated her laptop computer from the apartment.

During the questioning, investigators threatened to charge McEvers with engaging in “terrorist activity” for allegedly having information about an ambush against a Russian military convoy in the Nozhai Yurt district of Chechnya in 2005.

McEvers told CPJ she has never been to Chechnya and believes the inquiry is a pretext to search her notes and other possessions in order to harass people she interviewed.

Interior Ministry officials and prosecutors questioned McEvers in two session totaling 10 hours today, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. She was instructed not to leave Makhachkala and to return to the Interior Ministry on Saturday for additional questioning.

Authorities did not allow McEvers to contact the U.S. Embassy or a local lawyer on Wednesday. On Thursday and Friday, authorities allowed local lawyer Yursup Dzhakhbarov to sit in on the interrogations.

Yevgeniy Khorishko, press officer for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told CPJ in a telephone interview that he had “no official comment until we get information about this case.”

McEvers, 35, a New York-based freelance journalist, visited southern Russia while conducting research as an International Reporting Fellow for the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. She has reported for The New York Times Magazine, Slate, the BBC, The Christian Science Monitor, and the Chicago Tribune, according to a brief biography posted on the school Web site.

Before traveling to Dagestan, McEvers said she spent six fruitless weeks trying to get a journalist visa from the Russian Foreign Ministry. In early March, she traveled to Azerbaijan, where she received a business visa from the Russian embassy in Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku. She flew to the southern Russian airport in Mineralniye Vody and then traveled by land to Dagestan to conduct her research. She said she traveled on a business visa only as a last resort.

McEvers was detained in Khasavyurt the day after Russian security forces raided the home of local Islamic activist Samir Pashaev where they engaged in a gunfight with several Islamic militants, according to local press reports.