The International Federation of Journalists protested today over the expulsion of a Moscow-based investigative reporter with a warning that official intolerance of independent journalism is squeezing the life out of press freedom in Russia.
Natalia Morar, a journalist for the monthly independent news magazine New Time was detained at the city's Domodedovo airport on her return from an unrelated press trip to Israel with a group of journalists. She was barred from entry to Moscow where she has lived for a number of years and, without further explanation, was put on a flight to Moldova where she was born.
The action is thought to be official retaliation for her expose of the shady transfer of money to political parties, including United Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, during the recent parliamentary elections.
"This action is a shocking violation of press freedom and is clearly a warning to others not to try to expose the dark side of politics in modern Russia," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, who was in Moscow for a ceremony to honour journalists who have died in the line of duty. "When a journalists is victimised like this, without any opportunity to defend themselves, then press freedom is in danger of being extinguished altogether."
The IFJ is calling on the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe to investigate the case and to demand an explanation from the Russian authorities.
The President of the Russian Union of Journalists, Vsevelod Bogdonov, joined the condemnation and said the union would protest strongly over the incident. Bogdanov serves on the IFJ's international Executive Committee.
According to her editor Morar was stopped by customs officials after clearing passport controls and was told that on the orders of the FSB, the Russian security service, she was being denied entry to the country where she has lived both as a student and a working journalists over the past few years.
Her magazine New Time is the most vigorous of the small number of independent media that follow economic and political developments in Russia.
"The message being sent to all journalists could not be clearer," said White. "It is keep your noses out of sensitive Kremlin and political affairs or face retribution. This case should set alarm bells ringing anew over the perilous state of media freedom and pluralism in Russia."
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The IFJ is the world's largest journalists' group with more than 600,000 members in 117 countries.