For second time, reporter barred from Moscow

New York, February 27, 2008—Authorities at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport denied re-entry today to Natalya Morar, an investigative reporter with the independent newsweekly The New Times, the journalist told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Morar, speaking to CPJ by telephone from the airport, said guards stopped her at a passport checkpoint, confiscated her travel documents, and prevented her entry. The guards cited unspecified orders from superiors, she said. They told her she could return to Moldova, but Morar said she did not wish to do so until she learned the reasons and duration of the denial.

The incident was the second in which Morar, a Moldovan citizen who has worked at the Moscow newsweekly for about a year, has been denied re-entry; the first denial was per an order from the Federal Security Service (FSB).

An investigative reporter who covered complex money-laundering schemes involving Russian government officials, Morar was denied re-entry in December, when returning from a business trip to Israel. In January, the Russian consulate in Moldova sent written notice to Morar, citing a 1996 security law that allows authorities to 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.”

“We are troubled to hear Natalya Morar is still barred from entering Russia,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Denying entrance to a journalist just a few days before the presidential elections further damages Russia’s press freedom record.”

Morar told CPJ earlier this week that she had just married colleague Ilya Barabanov, a Russian citizen who was traveling with her. As the spouse of a Russian citizen, she said, she believed she was entitled to enter the country per Russian law. Reporters Vladimir Varfolomeyev from the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy and Armina Bagdasarian from The New Times, accompanied Morar today to monitor the government’s actions, several sources said. They were briefly detained.

Morar’s lawyer, Yuri Kostanov, told CPJ that airport guards would not allow him to consult with the journalist. Evgeniya Albats, editor of the Moscow-based New Times, said the magazine has filed a lawsuit against FSB, seeking to overturn the government’s order. An initial court hearing is scheduled for March 17, she said. “It is an absolute outrage and we are not going to let it go—we will fight for her return,” Albats added.