Journalists and media from Russia and around the region should be given free and open access to the site of the terrorist attack in Beslan said the International Federation of Journalists today after reports that some media staff trying to cover the story had been detained, poisoned and sacked.
“This tragedy has touched the hearts of millions of people in the region and journalists should be able to report freely,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. He was responding to reports that two Georgian journalists had been arrested and detained by Russian security forces, and two other Russian journalists blocked access.
“We cannot understand why our Georgian colleagues have been held. They should be set free and allowed to report without any further intimidation,” he said. “Our Georgian and Russian colleagues should not be subject to bureaucratic and arbitrary justice that denies them the right to report on this devastating event.
The IFJ’s comments came as journalists began a protest outside the Russian embassy in the Georgian capital Tbilisi demanding the release of Rustavi-2 TV journalist Nana Lezhava and cameraman Levan Tetvadze.
Yesterday a court ordered Lezhava and Tetvadze to be remanded in custody. Rustavi-2 also said that the court hearing took place in a Federal Security Service building in Vladikavkaz and that lawyers hired by the Georgian side were not allowed to represent the journalists. Georgia has lodged an official complaint over this.
The Georgian authorities say the journalists had been registered as residents of Georgia's Qazbegi District and were therefore free to stay in North Ossetia under a Georgian-Russian protocol allowing Georgian citizens from Qazbegi District to cross the North Ossetian border without a visa.
Also yesterday, two of Russia's leading journalists, with independent views on Chechnya were not even able to get to Beslan. Andrei Babitsky, of Radio Liberty, was arrested at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Thursday as police security searched his bag claiming he might have explosives. Anna Politkovskaya, a reporter for Novaya Gazeta who received death threats for her reporting on Chechnya and has denounced the Russian forces for atrocities, was mysteriously taken ill on a plane from Vnukovo to Rostov. Doctors said she had been poisoned. Later she flew back to Moscow on a private plane without going to Beslan and was taken to hospital in the capital.
“This smacks of a systematic cover-up policy by the Russian authorities,” said White. “Russia has nothing to lose by demonstrating openness in the face of this appalling event. Hindering the work of journalists will not inspire public confidence. There should be free and open access to the region for all media.”
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries