FSB bars journalist from re-entering Russia

New York, December 18, 2007—
Authorities at the Moscow Domodedovo airport barred Natalya Morar, a Moldovan citizen and an investigative reporter for the Moscow-based independent newsweekly The New Times, from re-entering Russia when she returned from her business trip to Israel on Sunday. Referring to a secret Federal Security Service (FSB) order, passport control officers said they were going to send Morar back to Israel despite her expired visa, she told CPJ. After her colleagues intervened, she was allowed to fly on to Moldova.

“We are appalled by the decision of the Russian authorities to bar Natalya Morar from re-entering the country and call on the government to investigate the incident,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Russia has a troubling history of harassing critical reporters, and this is just one more tactic the authorities have added to their repertoire.”

Passport control officers questioned Morar, 23, on the nature of her trip, she said, which was a journalism conference sponsored by a Holocaust foundation.

Morar and her colleagues told CPJ they believe the authorities’ decision was politically motivated. “There is no other way to explain what happened but my journalism,” she told CPJ.

She said that in May she had investigated complex money-laundering schemes involving government officials who funneled large sums of money out of the country. That month, she received a warning from sources close to the FSB who told her, “There is no need to end your life with an article—someone might simply wait for you at the entrance to your apartment building and they will not find a killer afterward.” Morar did not call the police but she told her colleagues what had happened and stayed away from her home for a week to be safe.

On December 10, The New Times ran her report on covert funds generated and distributed by the presidential administration before the December 2 parliamentary elections. While investigating that story, she received another warning that she “could receive a bullet” if she didn’t stop her work.

“I think my last article was a final drop in the Kremlin’s cup,” she said.

Ilya Barabanov from The New Times was on the same trip as Morar and told CPJ that several weeks ago Morar was able to successfully return to Russia from a trip to Brussels. As a citizen of Moldova, Morar does not need a Russian visa to enter the country.

The director of the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Oleg Panfilov, told CPJ that authorities need a court order if they want to deport citizens of the former Soviet republics. There is no doubt it is a politically motivated action against a brave and talented reporter,” Panfilov said.

According to the center’s statistics, more than 40—mostly foreign—journalists have been deported from Russia since 2000.