Reporters stranded at airport for two days, harassed


New York, February 28, 2008—Security guards at Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow continued to hold Natalya Morar and her husband Ilya Barabanov, both reporters with the independent newsweekly The New Times, for a second consecutive day.

Authorities have denied Morar access to her lawyer while pressuring her to buy a return ticket to her native Moldova. In addition, border guards have denied the two journalists a regular supply of food and water; have tried to separate them forcibly; and have banned them from using the mobile phone charger available at the transit zone, the journalists told CPJ.

“We are dismayed that Russian authorities are not allowing Natalya Morar entry to Russia without explanation, said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We are concerned for her and Ilya Barabanov’s well-being during their time at the airport.” 

A citizen of Moldova, Morar was barred from entering Russia in December on a secret Federal Security Service order and deported to Chisinau. A month later, Russian Embassy officials in Chisinau presented her with a one-paragraph statement that explained her deportation by citing a 1996 law, which says that authorities can refuse entry to foreign nationals “for the purpose of ensuring the defensive capability or security of the state or public order, or protecting the health of the general public.”

Last week, Morar married her colleague Ilya Barabanov, a Russian citizen, and tried to enter Russia yesterday as his spouse. She was denied entry again and placed in the airport’s transit zone. Authorities told Morar she was not allowed to enter Russia but provided no legal documents to justify the detention; they only kept referring to an “order from above.” Barabanov, who is allowed to enter, decided to stay with his wife.

Morar told CPJ that security guards at the airport tried to separate her and her husband, and told them that they “have a right to use force” against them. “They approached me some 10 times this morning asking whether I’d board today’s plane to Moldova, but I refused. Then they started intimidating us—denying proper access to food and water, granting no right to see a lawyer, and not letting us charge our cell phones,” Morar said.

The New Times staff members tried to send their colleagues food and personal hygiene products such as toothbrushes, but border guards did not let the package through, the newsweekly’s Deputy Editor Yevgeniya Albats told CPJ.

Morar said she has problems with her kidneys and has to eat and drink regularly, which she cannot. “I asked them to let me buy food at the airport on my own and told them I need to see a doctor, but there has been no positive response since then,” Morar said.

Border guards are constantly watching Morar and Barabanov at the airport—a female officer stopped Morar when she tried to use the airport’s mobile phone charger, Barabanov told CPJ. A cell phone connection with the journalists has been intermittent. Albats told CPJ security guards removed today the benches Morar and Barabanov had used to sleep on last night.

Morar told CPJ that the head security guard on duty today claimed he had not received statements she had written to protest her treatment in detention. Morar said she wrote an extensive statement yesterday and submitted it to the officials in charge.

“I ran out of paper writing appeals and complaints during these two days, which I handed to officers,” Morar said. She said the guard today, Aleksei Stroyev, refused to give her additional paper to write on.

CPJ spoke to an on-duty Domodedovo International Airport border officer, who refused to identify himself, saying that “military service” did not allow him to. He did not explain the reason Morar was denied entry to Russia but referred CPJ to the 1996 federal law under which she was banned from entering the state in December. When asked to explain why Morar has been refused access to legal counsel, the officer said she was in a restricted area where no visitors are allowed. The officer refused to provide CPJ with contact information for his superiors at the Federal Security Service.