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Russia25 January 2005

Russian journalist deprived of his passport and left in legal limbo

Reporters Without Borders condemned an unprecedented sentence against a Russian journalist which it said amounted to systematic legal hounding of an investigative reporter, the sole remaining Western correspondent working in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz.

Yuri Bagrov had a fine of 400 euros upheld on appeal by the North Ossetia administrative court on 19 January for "forgery", a sentence first handed down by the Leninski municipal court in Vladikavkaz on 17 December 2004.

The authorities contested the validity of the passport of the Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and Associated Press correspondent. He obtained the passport in 2003 to replace his former Soviet passport and now finds himself stripped of his nationality and effectively stateless.

"It is simply a case of silencing a journalist who had expressed himself on issues that local journalists do not touch because of the pressure they are under," said the worldwide press freedom organisation. "Yuri Bagrov, deprived of his passport and of his nationality, now finds himself in legal limbo. If he was threatened with expulsion he would have no country prepared to take him," it added.

"They didn’t give me a chance. The case was held at 4am on 19 January," Bagrov said. "No witnesses were called and the hearing was over in five minutes."

He now has no other recourse but the North Osssetia Supreme Court and the final authority would be the Russian Supreme Court, but only once the journalist paid the 400-euro fine.

Russian authorities began harassing the journalist on 25 August 2004, with an 8am search by officers of the FSB (Russian secret services) of his home, his office and his mother’s flat. They seized a huge quantity of documents, files and computers and confiscated his passport. As a result, Bagrov was unable to travel to Chechnya to cover the 29 August elections or to Beslan during the hostage-taking tragedy from 1-3 September.

He was told on 6 October that he was being charged with "forgery" under Article 327 of the criminal code. Bagrov had however received his passport in 2003 after a regional court ruling according him Russian nationality.

Local authorities on 29 December ordered Bagrov out of a room in which journalists had gathered for a press conference by the president of North Ossetia.

Bagrov had covered stories such as conditions for Chechen refugees, smuggling in the Caucasus and kidnappings in Ingushetia. He studied in Russia and lives there. His mother and wife both have Russian nationality. This should normally be enough to obtain a Russian passport.

Reporters Without Borders recently condemned the obstruction of media coverage of the Besland tragedy and voiced its concern at a possible extension throughout the region of the media blackout that is currently in force in Chechnya.

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