Stockholm, June 17, 2022 – Georgian authorities should allow Russian journalist Insa Lander to enter the country and work safely and freely, and should accept the asylum applications of journalists seeking refuge, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Lander, whose legal name is Insa Oguz, had been held under house arrest in the Russian town of Baksan, near the Georgian border, since December 2021, after authorities arrested her and charged her with assisting terrorist activities, according to the journalist, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. Lander told CPJ that the charges against her, which alleged she attempted to recruit an acquaintance to join the Islamic State militant group in 2014, were retaliation for an investigation she was preparing to publish about alleged corruption by a local official.
On June 12, Lander fled from her house arrest and passed through Russian border authorities to enter Georgia; however, Georgian authorities then denied her entry into the country, according to the journalist and news reports. Since then, she has remained in the neutral zone between the two countries, sleeping on a bench in the checkpoint’s duty-free section and relying on travellers crossing the border for food and water, according to those sources.
“Russian journalist Insa Lander’s claims that the charges against her are retaliation for her work are credible, and her fear that she will not receive a fair trial in Russia is well grounded,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program coordinator, in New York. “Georgian authorities should take these claims seriously by allowing Lander to enter the country and have her application for asylum examined, or else by allowing her to transit to a third country willing to accept her.”
Lander is an independent journalist who has published investigations into alleged donation scams and cases of physical and sexual abuse on her Twitter and Telegram accounts, where she has around 3,500 followers. The Independent Russia-based human rights organization Memorial, which has studied Lander’s case, concluded that it was politically motivated, according to a letter by the organization reviewed by CPJ.
In a statement issued on June 16, the Interior Ministry of Georgia said that Lander applied for asylum on June 13 after initially being refused entry for providing “false and inconsistent information” regarding the purpose of her visit. That statement did not provide any details about the status of her asylum application, and stated that Georgian law and the U.N. Refugee Convention allowed authorities to deny entry to people accused of terrorism on grounds of national security.
If convicted on terrorism charges in Russia, Lander could face up to 10 years in prison under criminal law provisions in force at the time of her arrest, she told CPJ. She has also been placed on Russian financial intelligence agency Rosfinmonitoring’s list of supporters of terrorism and extremism, restricting her access to her bank accounts, she said.
The Lithuanian ambassador to Georgia stated that his country was ready to provide Lander with a visa if Georgian authorities do not accept her, according to those news reports.
CPJ emailed the Interior Ministry of Georgia for comment, but did not receive any reply.
CPJ has previously called on Georgia and other countries to refrain from denying entry to Russian journalists fleeing persecution for their work.