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Russia27 February 2008

Expelled Moldovan reporter and two other journalists detained at Moscow airport

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Natalia Morar, a Moldovan journalist employed at the Moscow headquarters of The New Times weekly, was arrested by immigration officials on arriving today at Moscow’s Domodedovo on a flight from the Moldovan capital of Chisinau in her first attempt to return to Russia since she was expelled in December.

After marrying a Russian journalist in Moldova on 23 February, Morar should have been allowed back into the country as, under Russian law, she has a right to live there with her husband. Other journalists accompanying them were arrested or removed from the airport.

“We urge the authorities to allow Morar to enter Russia and to resume working there freely,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Her arrest, and the arrest of the other journalists accompanying her, show the extent to which her presence upsets the government.”

When Morar arrived at the passport control, police told her “the situation linked to your preceding visit has not changed” and they ordered her to return immediately to Chisinau on the same plane. Morar refused to leave without her husband and asked to see her lawyer, Yuri Kostanov. This was refused.

She was then threatened with having to pay 500 rubles (15 euros) for each minute that the return flight to Chisinau was delayed. A police captain told her if she did not leave at once, she would have to await the next day’s flight and would be given nothing to eat. He added that “this flight would be made in conditions you would probably not appreciate.”

Radio Moscow Echo deputy editor Vladimir Varfolomeyev, who travelled on the flight with Morar and her new husband, Ilia Barabanov, was detained for several hours at the airport for “border area violation” before being released. Armina Bagdasarian, a reporter with The New Times who was also on the flight, was forcibly escorted out of the passport area.

Morar, who is currently with her husband in the holding area of the airport for people awaiting expulsion, is refusing to go back to Moldova without an explanation from the FSB security service. She is demanding to know why she was arrested and why her presence poses a danger to the security of Russia.

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