U.S. journalist returns home after interrogations in Dagestan

New York, April 3, 2006—Freelance journalist Kelly McEvers left Russia today after authorities in the southern republic of Dagestan interrogated her in four prolonged sessions, confiscated her possessions, and restricted her movements last week.

McEvers flew from Dagestan to Moscow on Sunday evening and departed the Russian capital on a flight to Washington, D.C., this morning, according to John Schidlovsky, director of the International Reporting Project at Johns Hopkins University. McEvers, an international reporting fellow at Johns Hopkins, had been researching Islam and terrorism in Dagestan.

Schidlovsky said in a telephone interview that Dagestani authorities gave McEvers an itemized receipt for her possessions—a camera, dictaphone, computer disks, notebooks and a laptop—but did not return them prior to her departure. McEvers has given her local lawyer, Yursup Dzhakhbarov, power of attorney to retrieve her possessions, Schidlovsky said.

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.

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.

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 was a pretext to search her notes in order to harass the people she interviewed.

Interior Ministry officials and prosecutors questioned McEvers in two session totaling 10 hours on Friday, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. She was instructed not to leave Makhachkala.

Authorities did not initially allow McEvers to contact the U.S. embassy or a local lawyer. On Thursday and Friday, she said, authorities allowed Dzhakhbarov to sit in on the interrogations.

McEvers was not interrogated on Saturday, but authorities summoned her local interpreter for questioning, the journalist told CPJ.

McEvers, 35, a New York-based freelance journalist, 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 International Reporting Project 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 Mineralnye 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 Pashayev where they engaged in a gunfight with several Islamic militants, according to local press reports.