Protesters in St. Petersburg hold a banner reading "Love is stronger than war," May 1, 2014. The mayor of the nearby border city of Svetogorsk's assertion that there were no homosexuals in his town drew reporters seeking follow-up stories. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuck)

Russian security services detain journalists in border city, order them to leave

March 7, 2017 4:34 PM ET

New York, March 7, 2017--Russian security services should stop harassing and obstructing journalists and should allow them to work unimpeded, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Security services have detained at least three journalists who had traveled to report from the northwestern city of Svetogorsk, on Russia's border with Finland, in the past two days.

Russian Security Service (FSB) officers today detained Igor Zalyubovin, a reporter with the Moscow-based independent news magazine Snob, and Vladimir Yarotsky, a Snob photographer, at the building where the journalists had rented an apartment for the duration of their assignment reporting on daily life in the city, Snob said in a statement. The article was planned as a response to Svetogorsk Mayor Sergey Davydov's March 1 claim that there were no homosexuals in the city, and that it was a "city without sin," according to press reports.

The FSB officers took Zalyubovin and Yarotsky to a nearby detention center, where they were charged with crossing into a border zone without permission and were ordered to leave Svetogorsk, according to their employer.

It was the second time in as many days that journalists were detained and prevented from reporting from the city. Yevgeniya Zobnina, a correspondent for the Moscow-based independent television channel Dozhd TV, traveled with rights activists to the city yesterday, also to follow up on Davydov's claims, according to press reports. Zobnina planned to report on a meeting the activists sought with the mayor, Dozhd TV reported.

Instead, FSB agents took Zobnina and the four activists to a local police station for questioning. The officers asked the journalist why she was doing the report, and for whom, before issuing the group a warning for crossing into a border zone without permission and releasing them, Dozhd TV reported.

"Russia's security services must let go of their toxic habit of obstructing journalists who report on issues they would prefer to sweep under the rug," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on authorities in Svetogorsk to allow journalists to work in the city without fear of reprisal."

Svetogorsk is a town of 15,000 people, located roughly 200 kilometers from St. Petersburg and one kilometer away from the border with Finland. To visit requires either a Shengen visa to enter via Finland, an invitation from a local resident, or a special permit from the FSB, according to 2014 legislation. Snob's editor-in-chief, Yegor Mostovshikov, told the news website Meduza today that his outlet did not apply for a permit from the FSB "because it takes up to 30 days to get it."

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