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Grigory Pasko: Among the Asylum Seekers in Finland

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It’s no mystery that Russian journalists are an endangered species. Beyond the headlines grabbed by the famous cases of Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya, there are so many more who are threatened, beaten, harassed, and forced out of work, home, and country all thanks to their unpardonable nature of the work. They write things that powerful people wish to remain secret.

The journalists of modern Russia forced to seek asylum for their own safety is long, including Yelena Tregubova, Yuri Bagrov, Fatima Tlisova, and on and on, many of whom were involved in some manner in reporting on Chechnya.  There are also other very successful journalists, such as Natalia Morari, who are expelled from Russia against their will, and even unknown young interns, such as Anastasia Baburova, who are shot dead for nothing more than walking alongside the wrong human rights lawyer at the wrong time.

As my readers know, I just got back from the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum, where I had the chance to catch up with I met Lena Maglevannaya – the journalist and human rights advocate from Volgograd. The fragile young journalist was at the Forum to deliver a speech about torture inside the Volgograd prison system. In previous months, she had given extensive coverage to this story with articles bearing titles such as “The fate of a Chechen in a Russian jail“, “Tortures of imprisoned Chechen continue“, “Tortures in Russian colonies“, published on the site Civitas.ru.

On 13 May, the Kirov District Court of Volgograd found Maglevannayaguilty of spreading “unreliable information, tarnishing the honor anddignity of FSIN.”  The judge in her case ruled that her investigative journalism “did not correspond to reality” and obligated Elena to publish a retraction andto pay a fine in the amount of 200,000 rubles to the prison authorities to compensate for damage.

During her speech at the Civic Forum, Lena did not look intimidated whatsoever – more tired thananything.  However, once I had returned to Moscow, I eventually heard that she had applied for political asylum from the Finnish authorities.  Her aslyum application was announced to the media by the chairman of the committee for the protection of humanrights of Tatarstan, Sergey Knyazkin.  Sergey and I also spoke,exchanged opinions with respect to the persecution of journalists inRussia.

Some of our conclusions were echoed by Mikhail Fedotov, secretary general of the Union of Journalists of the Russian Federation, who told me “After this journalist lost such an absurd trial, it was the last straw.  Russian courts today don’t take into consideration the fact that journalistsoftentimes are deprived of access to official sources ofinformation. They are compelled to rely on their own, unofficial,oftentimes anonymous, sources.  The burden upon journalists in Russia these days is extremely onerous, and Ican not say that in the past year their situation has become any better.”

To this I might add that most everyone I have spoken to about Maglevannaya’s difficult decision say she did the right thing. Today’s power does not allow for opportunities to journalists tofeel protected and free, and able to fully pursue their important work.  And that is a sad thing for all Russians.