Paris, February 13, 2023 — Russian authorities should not interfere with the renewal of Finnish journalist Arja Paananen’s accreditation and visa and let her work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On February 9, the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat reported that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had failed to renew Paananen’s accreditation to continue as the outlet’s Russia correspondent.
Paananen, who started reporting from Moscow and Saint Petersburg in 1990, told CPJ in a phone interview that the foreign ministry first said her renewal would be ready by the end of September 2022. When she did not receive it by mid-October and her visa and accreditation were set to expire, Paananen left the country.
“Russian authorities should not let political considerations affect their decision to renew Finnish journalist Arja Paananen’s accreditation,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should either grant Paananen’s renewal at once or publicly disclose the reason why her visa and accreditation have been denied.”
On August 1, 2022, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called a July 2022 editorial by Paananen about a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin a “blatant example of anti-Russian propaganda” and said the piece “was hastily translated” to Russian ”in order to have a direct informational and propagandistic impact on the local Russian-speaking community.”
Paananen said she believed Zakharova’s comments were the first sign that she was going to be barred from reporting from the country.
Ilta-Sanomat started to translate its materials to Russian after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The outlet’s website was blocked by Russian state media regulator Roskomnadzor in April 2022, over a report about civilian casualties in the war.
Paananen told CPJ that her one-year accreditation as a “permanent correspondent” in Russia was normally renewed without any issue, but authorities had recently limited such accreditations for journalists from countries considered “unfriendly,” including Finland, to three months.
Paananen noted that Jussi Konttinen with Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat had his accreditation terminated during the summer 2022, but said that she was aware of at least two other Finnish journalists who had their permanent correspondent accreditations extended recently.
In January, a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Paananen informally that her accreditation was not likely to be renewed, she told CPJ, adding, “but officially they refuse to say that they have announced me persona non grata.”
Paananen told CPJ that if she was to apply for a tourist visa, her chances to get an accreditation “would get immediately nullified” and that the process to regain the permanent correspondent status is “very difficult and long.”
“I will of course continue to cover Russia, it’s my job,” she said.
“Russia’s actions are clearly deliberate: they do not want Paananen to be allowed to cover what is happening in Russia,” Ilta-Sanomat editor-in-chief Johanna Lahti said in that article by the outlet.
CPJ emailed the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment, but did not receive any reply.
[Editors’ Note: This alert was updated to correct the spelling of Zakharova’s name in the sixth paragraph.]