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Grigory Pasko: Interview with Exiled Journalist Natalia Morari

[This blog has closely followed the story of the FSB’s forced exile of Natalia Morari, an investigative journalist from the New Times magazine, and below we’re pleased to feature a special interview with her by our correspondent Grigory Pasko. This blog also has translations of Morari’s two articles about Raiffeisen and the Kozlov murder. Note that many previous reports have incorrectly stated her name as “Natalia Morar” instead of “Morari” – Trans.] Natalia Morari: “We are undesirable in Russia…” By Grigory Pasko, journalist morari1219.jpg Natalia Morari (photo from the archive of Grigory Pasko)

From the author: Russia is now living in times when nobody – and I emphasize: NOBODY! – can be sure that some little stinker of a petty official will not prohibit him or her from entering the country or from leaving it. That’s how it was under Stalin and Brezhnev. And that’s how it’s become under Putin.A sign of the times: the closer we come to the presidential so-called elections, the more shamelessly, the more arrogantly, the more cynically, and the more lawlessly does the power treat people it regards as unwanted.In principle, probably, every single independent journalist is internally prepared that he or she might not be let out of the country, not be allowed to enter the country, be thrown in jail, be thrown in a psychiatric hospital, or be murdered in the entrance to his or her home. The variety of kinds of state “love” for those who think differently, as we can see, is not that great. But it is effective, like in Stalinist times: if it has been said by the president that those who “jackalize” need to be “soaked in the toilet”, that means they need to be “soaked”… (And whoever refuses will be “soaked” himself).Happy days are here again. Democracy? Capitalism? No sir – it’s just plain, ordinary KGB totalitarianism.Journalist Natalia Morari wrote good articles. I hope she’ll continue to write them. There is no doubt that it was precisely her articles that served as the motive for the decision by the FSB, in essence, to deport her beyond the Russian pale.Natalia Morari wrote a great deal about corruption in the Russian special services: some of them, in the words of the journalist, “release” compromising information about their rivals in the struggle for power. This autumn, the journalist wrote about the extortion and bribery of which top officers of the FSB are being accused.Likewise emanating from her pen is an article which talks about the involvement of the authorities in the contract milling of Central Bank of Russia employee Andrei Kozlov, who was trying to shut down channels for money laundering outside Russia. The journalist wrote that Kozlov was hampering Russian government officials’ legalization of unlawful incomes in Austria.Natalia Morari is a citizen of Moldova, but in recent times – during the course of six years – she has resided in Russia. She went to college there. And then she started working at the magazine The New Times.The short version of what happened at Domodedovo airport is as follows: On 16 December together with other journalists she returned from Israel, where she had gone on assignment, however upon arrival at Domodedovo they would not let her into the country, citing some kind of letter from the FSB. Please note: Natalia had all of her documents, registrations, permissions, and sundry other papers in good order.The foreign press called the ouster of Natalia Morari from Russia a new turn in the offensive against independent mass media in Russia.Natalia is now in Chişinău, where I telephoned her and had the following conversation.Natasha, good day! So were official papers found in the Russian embassy in Chişinău that would shed light on your deportation?No, they were not found. So far, I have not received official notification from the Russian authorities with an explanation of the reasons for the prohibition on entry. And the editorial board of our magazine also hasn’t received any.With whom did you meet at the embassy and what was told to you there?I met with one of the employees. At the embassy, as it turned out, they were quite surprised, nobody knew anything about my expulsion. They didn’t have any papers on this account. I asked when I would receive a reply to my inquiry to the name of the ambassador. They answered me that they would send their inquiry to Russia.How do you appraise what has happened? Your colleague Ilya Barabanov reported in the press that entry into Russia was prohibited to you by order of the central apparat of the FSB on the basis of the federal law “On the procedure of exit from the RF and entry into the RF”. A border guard in the rank of lieutenant-colonel refused to introduce himself and advised turning for clarifications to the Lubyanka. A representative of the border service made reference to one of the articles of the law, in which is said that entry into Russia is not permitted a foreign citizen if “this is necessary for the purposes of providing for the defence capability or security of the state, or public order, or the protection of the health of the population”, as well as if “a decision has been adopted in relation to the foreign citizen on the undesirability of sojourn (residence) in the Russian Federation”.Yes, I am familiar with Article 27 of this law. There is indeed a line there about the security of the state……But there is nothing about undesirability of sojourn. Probably they mixed it up with other laws or instructions of theirs.…Whatever the case may be, it is obvious that all this can be associated only with my publications, with journalistic investigations: about money laundering, about corruption, about schemes for financing elections, about offshore zones… In articles I named concrete surnames: Bortnikov’s, Sobyanin’s, Surkov’s… (Alexander Bortnikov – deputy director of the FSB of the RF, member of the board of directors of «Sovkomflot»; Sergey Sobyanin – head of the administration of the president of the RF; Vladislav Surkov – Sobyanin’s deputy, assistant to the president—G.P.).What do you think – is the FSB in the given instance acting independently or is there a corresponding instruction from higher up?I think that certain employees of the FSB are acting independently in the hope that this will advance their careers. There is a trend – to pursue the unwanted, independent journalists, human rights advocates, businessmen… Having caught on to this trend, bureaucrats of various agencies are trying to get noticed. There are many such… unwanted ones. And we are undesirable for the current power of Russia.How were you met by the border guards of Moldova?They were greatly surprised not by the fact that I had been sent out of Russia, but because all of my documents were in order, and I had not violated any laws. Right at the ramp from the airplane they arranged an interrogation for me. By the way, in contrast to the Russian embassy, they had received some kind of papers from the Russian side.Is all of this a sign that the Russian power is afraid of independent journalists?I think they’re afraid. After all, in the event if other people come to power in the country, then it can not be ruled out that they will hold today’s leaders liable for all the lawlessness that’s going on now. They’re going to have to answer for YUKOS, and for the jailed Khodorkovsky, and for Gutseriyev, and for the persecution of journalists… They’re afraid of these facts coming out even now. And any independent opinion – a journalist’s, a human rights advocate’s, a businessman’s – they evaluate as a personal threat to themselves.Has the power in Russia become more aggressive?Yes, no question about it. Expulsion from the country isn’t the worst thing at all. The alternatives – camp, a psychiatric hospital… And at the same time they, the representatives of the power, are actually trying to tell us that they’re generous and liberal. I think that closer to the elections, the situation will get worse still, while incidents such as the one that took place with me will be repeated.Good luck to you, Natasha! We hope for your return to Russia.Meanwhile…The Federal Migrational Service (FMS) doesn’t have anything to do with the deportation of the journalist of the publication The New Times, citizen of Moldavia [sic] Natalia Morari, declared the director of the FMS of Russia, Konstantin Romodanovsky, at a press conference at «Interfax».“I do not have in my possession information about who deported her and adopted the corresponding decision”, declared Romodanovsky. “The Migrational Service does not work on the border, we work inside the country”, added the FMS head.To a request to comment on the actions of the corresponding services in relation to the journalist, Romodanovsky said: “It is incorrect for me to answer for other agencies”.Deputy editor-in-chief of The New Times Yevgenia Albats told about what other publications by Natalia Morari might have evoked dissatisfaction on the part of the power.Secretary-General of the Union of Journalists of Russia Igor Yakovenko called the prohibition of entry onto the territory of Russia to Natalia Morari a “political lynching”. Yakovenko noted that the Union of Journalists of Russia will endeavor to undertake all possible measures in order to achieve the return of Morari to Russia.President of the Foundation «In defense of glasnost» Alexey Simonov likewise calls the deportation of the journalist Natalia Morari unlawful. As Simonov himself declared in an interview of a radio station, he is counting on the support of the «International Federation of Journalists».Absolutely impermissible is what Secretary-General of the «International Federation of Journalists» Aidan White called what happened with Natalia Morari. In his words, Russia should not count on being perceived of as a democratic state if it allows itself such actions.