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Russia18 December 2007

Reporter who wrote about Kremlin slush fund banned from reentering Russia

(JPEG) The expulsion of Natalia Morar, a Moldovan journalist employed by the Moscow-based New Times weekly, on 16 December was a “flagrant press freedom violation,” Reporters Without Borders said today. Morar was denied entry on returning to Moscow from a press trip to Israel and was put on an early morning flight to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau.

“Morar’s expulsion shows how open the authorities now are in their contempt for the press and their determination to sideline critical journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “This is clear from her recent articles and the fact that it was almost certainly the FSB security service that ordered her expulsion, which was a political reprisal for her work as a journalist.”

When Morar arrived at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport aboard a flight from Israel with a group of fellow journalists, passport control officers told her she was banned from entering Russia on FSB orders but refused to show her any document that said this.

She subsequently learned that the ban was issued under article 27 of the immigration law, which permits the exclusion of a foreigner if deemed necessary to “preserve national defence, state security, public order or public health” or when “a foreign citizen is designated persona non grata in the Russian Federation.”(JPEG)

Morar told Reporters Without Borders she spent the night confined to a room at the airport that is reserved for people awaiting expulsion. From there she was taken down a special corridor to a plane bound for Chisinau. Her identity papers, which had been taken from her, were given to the flight crew. It was only after her arrival in Moldova and interrogation by Moldovan immigration officials that her papers were returned to her.

Morar said she was expelled because of her work as a journalist. An article by her in the 10 December issue of New Times, headlined “The Kremlin slush fund,” was probably the cause. “In it, I described in detail how the parliamentary elections were financed,” she said.

New Times deputy editor Evgenia Albats said she thought Morar’s expulsion was “the government’s response to her reporting and the magazine’s work in general.” Russian Union of Journalists secretary-general Igor Yakovenko said that he shared this view and that “it is clear there was nothing legal about her expulsion.”

Yakovenko added: “It is double standards and a classic political punishment when a person who lives in Moscow, works in a Moscow publication and is a professional journalist is expelled from Russia on the basis of some kind of unclear order from Lubyanka.”

The FSB has refused to make any comment.

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