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Russia2 February 2004

Russian authorities refuse Danish journalist accreditation

Reporters Without Borders today condemned Russia’s refusal to provide Vibeke Sperling of the Danish daily Politiken with a work visa and accreditation so she can work as her newspaper’s correspondent in Moscow.

As the Russian authorities have given no convincing reason for this decision, the organisation called on foreign minister Igor Ivanov and information minister Mikhail Lesin to reconsider.

Barring a foreign journalist from working as a correspondent is tantamount to censorship, Reporters Without Borders said, adding that it suspected that Sperling is being punished for her articles on the war in Chechnya and human rights violation in Russia in general.

Sperling could also be suffering the consequences of the diplomatic tension between Denmark and Russia in 2002 over the presence in Copenhagen of Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov’s representative Ahmed Zakaiev, who is wanted by the Russian authorities.

After previously working for many years as a correspondent for the Danish press in Moscow, Sperling was due to go back as Politiken’s correspondent. This is the first time she has ever been denied a work visa and permanent accreditation.

She said she was threatened with expulsion once or twice during the Soviet times, but it never materialised. "Even though I sometimes had to wait for a long time, I always got a visa when I applied," she said.

But this time, she said, the press attaché at the Russian consulate in Copenhagen commented that some of her articles on Chechnya were "wrong".

The Russian foreign minister undertook to reconsider this decision, but Denmark’s ambassador to Moscow, Lars Vissing, on 8 January received a written reply reiterating the refusal to give Sperling accreditation and a visa, again without offering any explanation.

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