Russian Authorities deny British journalist entry visa

New York, July 5, 2006 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that Russian authorities have refused an entry visa to British journalist Thomas de Waal. The Moscow-based Union of Russia’s Journalists (RUJ) had invited de Waal to present his book on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which was translated into Russian last year. The Federal Migration Service in Moscow wrote the RUJ Monday that de Waal’s application had been denied under a 1996 security law.

De Waal told CPJ that he had not experienced trouble over his work on Nagorno-Karabakh–a turbulent province in western Azerbaijan under Armenian occupation for a decade.   “I believe the entry denial is connected to my work on Chechnya and the North Caucasus,” de Waal said.

In the past 12 years, de Waal has written extensively on the war in Chechnya. From 1993 to 1997, he worked in Russia, covering the North Caucasus for the English-language daily Moscow Times and The Times of London.   He wrote a book Chechnya: A Small Victorious War, and in 2003, he testified as an expert witness for the defense at the extradition trial in Britain of Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev.

“We are very concerned by Russian authorities’ decision to deny Thomas de Waal an entry visa,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “This appears to be part of a pattern by the authorities of controlling coverage. We call on the Federal Migration Service to allow de Waal to enter Russia, and to stop harassing journalists whose reporting on the war in Chechnya contradicts the official line.”

De Waal said he believed Russian authorities were now reacting to the body of his work over the past decade. “I must have somehow gotten on their black list,” de Waal said. He last visited Russia in January 2005. He has been to the North Caucasus twice during President Vladimir Putin’s tenure, both times visiting the republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia, but not Chechnya. Oleg Panfilov, director of the Moscow-based media watchdog Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said his organization keeps a list of foreign journalists denied visas since 2000. The list now contains over 30 names, Panfilov told the Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.