CPJ asks Russia to allow journalists’ entry

September 26, 2008

His Excellency Dmitry Medvedev
President of the Russian Federation
Office of the President
23 Ilinka Street
Moscow 103132

Via facsimile: + 7 (495) 606 5173

Dear President Medvedev,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that Russia has recently denied entry to international journalists who have worked in the country regularly. We are especially concerned that Russian authorities have used a law that implies the journalists represent a threat to the country, but gives no explanation as to how.

Specifically, we would like to bring to your attention the most recent denial of entry of British freelance journalist Simon Pirani, who has worked in Russia as a reporter and academic researcher regularly since 1990, mainly writing about trade unions, the energy sector, business, and finance.

Pirani had a valid, multiple-entry visa to Russia when he was stopped by border guards at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport on June 17. Officials handed him a “declaration of return,” which stated that he could not enter the country under Law 114, “On exiting and entering the Russian Federation,” and put him on a London-bound plane.

Upon his return, Pirani wrote to the Russian Consulate in London, asking for an explanation as to why had been banned from entering the country. In an August 25 e-mail, the consulate wrote to Pirani that he had been denied entry to Russia under Article 27.1 of the above-mentioned law, which states that “internationals” are barred when “necessary for the purpose of protecting the defense capability and security of the state or the social order, or for the protection of the public health.” The e-mail did not explain how Pirani’s presence in the country could be a threat.

Pirani also wrote to Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov, asking for further clarification as to why he was denied entry, but has yet to receive a response.

Pirani’s last reporting trip to Russia was in October 2007, when he visited with representatives from trade unions and civil rights groups and interviewed them for an upcoming book. Some of them, Pirani said, told him they were subjected to surveillance and other intimidation tactics by law enforcement agencies.

This is the second case in a year when an international journalist has been denied entry into Russia. In December 2007, authorities at Domodedovo airport barred Moldovan citizen and investigative reporter for the Moscow-based independent newsweekly The New Times Natalya Morar from re-entering Russia after a business trip to Israel. Referring to a secret Federal Security Service (FSB) order, passport control officers said she was not allowed in the country. Morar had studied journalism in Moscow and had worked for about two years with The New Times when she was banned. In May 2007, Morar 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.”

On December 10, just one week before she was denied entry to Russia, The New Times ran Morar’s report on covert funds generated and distributed by the presidential administration before Russia’s December 2, 2007, parliamentary elections. While investigating that story, she was given another warning that she “could receive a bullet” if she didn’t stop her work.

As in Pirani’s case, Morar received the same paragraph-long explanation of her ban; on January 17, the Russian Embassy in Moldova cited the same security law that, in effect, declares Pirani and Morar a threat to Russia.

According to statistics from the Moscow-based press freedom group Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, since 2000 more than 40 journalists have either been denied entry to or have been deported from Russia. Among those is another British journalist–Thomas de Waal of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. In July 2006, the Federation Migration Service in Moscow denied de Waal’s application for a Russian visa, citing the same security law. De Waal had been invited to Moscow to present his book on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict at the Russian Union of Journalists.

As an independent, international, nonpartisan advocacy group that defends the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal, we are concerned by the ongoing invocation of “security” as a reason to keep journalists from entering the country. We would like to respectfully remind you the commitment to press freedom, which you stated upon your inauguration, and urge you to allow foreign journalists to report in Russia. For CPJ, this is a matter of both law and principle. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Russia has ratified, guarantees “the right to hold opinions without interference” and the freedom “to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media.”

We have defended and will continue to defend Russian journalists in similar circumstances. We remain hopeful that you would use the authority of your high office to ensure that Simon Pirani, Natalya Morar, Thomas de Waal, and all other international journalists are allowed to travel to and work in Russia.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.

Joel Simon
Executive Director