Human Rights Watch executive denied entry visa

New York, February 20, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled by Russia’s failure to issue an entry visa to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Executive Director Kenneth Roth.

Roth intended to travel to Russia on Tuesday to hold a press conference to present his group’s report on obstacles nongovernmental organizations face in the region. This is the first time HRW has not been issued a visa since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the group said.

“We are alarmed by the authorities’ interference in the release of a report by a prominent international organization,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Such action is part of a disturbing trend of clamping down on independent groups working to prevent the erosion of gains in freedom of expression and human rights that Russia made after the end of the Cold War.”

Roth told a Moscow news conference via telephone today that his visa application was blocked by “a variety of fairly technical difficulties that seemed to change from day to day,” Agence France-Presse reported.

The 72-page report Roth was supposed to present in Moscow, titled “Choking on Bureaucracy: State Curbs on Independent Civil Society Activism,” is based on dozens of interviews with NGO activists in various parts of Russia. It documents the application of new laws and regulations in Russia that target NGOs that do work critical of authorities, cover controversial topics, are pro-opposition, or receive international grants, HRW said in a press release.

HRW held a press conference in Moscow today with Roth speaking by phone. Copies of the report were provided to journalists; it is also available online.