Xavier Colás, longtime Moscow correspondent for Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo, was given 24 hours to leave Russia after working in the country for 12 years. (Screenshot: El Independiente/YouTube)

Spanish journalist Xavier Colás denied visa renewal, expelled from Russia

New York, March 22, 2024—Russian authorities must reconsider their decision to not renew the visa of Spanish journalist Xavier Colás and allow him to work freely in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo reported that Russian authorities refused to renew Colás’ visa, the outlet’s longtime correspondent in Moscow, and gave him 24 hours to leave Russia after working in the country for 12 years. 

“The hasty and unceremonious treatment Spanish journalist Xavier Colás received when being expelled from Russia demonstrates how keen the Russian authorities are to silence independent reporting,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “Russian authorities should renew Colás’ visa and let him return and work in the country unless they are afraid of journalists.”

According to the outlet, late on Tuesday, March 19, a Russian official told Colás when he went to collect his visa that he would “have problems” if he did not leave before his visa expired. The journalist left Russia the next day, according to media reports

“It’s hard to suddenly put 12 years of your life in three suitcases overnight and close the door knowing that that apartment will also be forbidden territory for you the next day,” Colás told El Mundo.

In a Twitter post, Colás wrote that the refusal to renew his visa happened “at the last minute.” 

He added, “I don’t regret anything. I have simply done my job: I have told what is happening, I have talked to the people who are suffering because of it, and I have explained who is responsible for what is happening.”

Colás, who recently reported on presidential elections in Russia, has also been covering the war in Ukraine. In February, he published Putinistan, a book critical of Putin’s regime.  

“The refusal to renew a journalist’s visa is one of the usual tools used by certain regimes to harm freedom of expression and prevent international coverage with autocracies such as Vladimir Putin’s, obsessed with controlling information,” El Mundo said, adding that Colás had remained in Moscow “to date” and “despite the regime’s hostility toward independent journalism.”

Russia tightened visa and accreditation rules for foreign correspondents after its February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, with renewals required every three months, rather than once a year as previously required, according to mediareports

Russia has a history of expelling foreign reporters, including The Guardian’s Luke Harding in 2011 and the BBC’s Sarah Rainsford and Tom Vennink of the Dutch daily de Volkskrant in 2021. Since the start of Ukraine’s full-scale invasion, Russian authorities have failed to renew the visas and accreditations of Finnish journalists Arja Paananen and Anna-Lena Laurén, and of Dutch journalist Eva Hartog.

In March 2023, The Wall Street Journal’s Evan Gershkovich was arrested on espionage charges, the first American journalist to face such accusations by Russia since the end of the Cold War. Russia has also detained Alsu Kurmasheva, a U.S-Russian dual citizen and an editor with the Tatar-Bashkir service of U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) since October 2023 on charges of failing to register as a foreign agent and of spreading “fake” information about the Russian army.

CPJ emailed the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment but did not receive any reply.