Deported journalist declared threat to state security

New York, January 17, 2008—Russian authorities say they were ensuring the “security of the state” when they barred a reporter from re-entering the country last month. Natalya Morar, a Moldovan citizen who works for the Moscow-based independent newsweekly The New Times, said the Russian Embassy in Moldova informed her today of the official reason for blocking her re-entry in December.

The one-paragraph statement given to Morar cited a 1996 security law, which says that authorities can refuse entry by 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.” The statement was reviewed by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Citing a Federal Security Service (FSB) order, passport control officers at the Moscow Domodedovo International Airport blocked Morar when she returned from a business trip to Israel on December 16, she told CPJ at the time. The action came shortly after The New Times published investigative reports by Morar outlining alleged money laundering schemes used by Russian authorities to funnel the money out of the country.

“We are alarmed by the authorities’ use of a state security statute to bar reporter Natalya Morar from entering Russia,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This is part of a disturbing trend of invoking broad security and anti-extremism laws to muzzle critical media. We call on the authorities to reverse their decision and allow our colleague to enter the country.”

Morar told CPJ she was shocked by the government’s reasoning. “I am only 24 and I wonder what threat I can pose to a mighty state,” Morar said. She said the notification would enable The New Times to file court action challenging the decision.

Ilya Barabanov, a New Times colleague, told CPJ that the magazine was investigating the incident and has requested formal explanations from a number of government agencies. The FSB has not responded to repeated written inquiries, Barabanov said.

Russian authorities cited the same law in 2006, when they denied a visa to British journalist Thomas de Waal of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting.