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Russia8 April 2008

Call for ban on journalist to be lifted

Reporters Without Borders called today for a ban on Moldovan journalist Natalia Morar, of the weekly New Times, to be lifted after what it called a “disgraceful” decision by a Moscow court to reject her appeal against the Russian FSB secret police’s refusal to explain why she had been deported from Russia last December and refused entry in February this year. "This secrecy and harassment must end" the organisation said.

When the court granted the FSB’s request on 7 April for the appeal to be heard in secret because of allegedly confidential material in the case, journalists had to leave the courtroom.

29.02.08 - Journalist in airport transit area for past 48 hours as immigration officials try to break her will

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Russian immigration officials have been preventing Natalia Morar, a Moldovan journalist employed at the Moscow headquarters of The New Times weekly, and her Russian husband, Ilya Barabanov, from leaving the transit area of Moscow’s Domodedovo airport for the past two days and the couple, who arrived on a flight from the Moldovan capital of Chisinau on 27 February, are preparing to spend another night there.

Morar was deported from Russia on 16 December and the authorities are refusing to let her reenter the country. They are also refusing to let her see her lawyer, Yuri Kostanov. Although the authorities have threatened to put them on a flight back to Chisinau by force, Morar has said, “I will stay as long as I have the strength.”

“The discriminatory character of these measures against Morar is outrageous,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We would like to be told why the FSB security service has intervened in this case and in what way this young journalist represents a threat to the Russian people.

“We call on the Russian authorities to put an end to this stalemate and to explain Morar’s situation. If she is suspected of committing an offence, the matter should be referred to the courts. Otherwise, she is an ordinary journalist married to a Russian citizen, and there are no legal grounds for preventing her from entering Russia.

“The immigration officials are clearly trying to break her will. This is obvious from the conditions in which she is being held,” Reporters Without Borders added. “She has not been able to see her lawyer and she has only sporadically received food and water. She has a kidney condition and the authorities will be responsible if it gets worse.”

When Morar arrived with her husband on the flight from Chisinau two days ago, they were stopped at the passport control and she was told “the situation linked to your preceding visit has not changed.” Since then, they have been in an area of the airport for people awaiting expulsion. One of the two journalists covering her return was detained for several hours. The other was escorted out of the airport.

When immigration officials tried to get Morar and her husband to board a flight to Chisinau yesterday, the couple tied themselves together with their belts and the officials decided not to use force. It is difficult to reach Morar by telephone in the airport at the moment as she has not been allowed to recharge her mobile. She was allowed to see a doctor today as she has not been feeling well.

Prior to her deportation in December, on her return from a press trip to Israel, Morar wrote several articles about irregularities in the financing of the December parliamentary elections. One of them, headlined “The Kremlin slush fund,” went into the irregularities in great detail.

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