A British human rights barrister has been expelled from Russia for visiting the country on the wrong type of visa. Bill Bowring, a professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, who has represented Chechens who have accused the Russian military of abuse, was told to leave after immigration officials ruled he should have been travelling on a business visa and not a tourist one. The professor had already given several training lectures to local judges when officials questioned him at his hotel in Astrakhan, southern Russia. He was fined and ordered to return to London.
Prof Bowring was one of several specialists funded by the European Union to make short-term visits to Russia each year. He had given a number of lectures in Astrakhan after being invited by the local justice department, and had also spoken to journalists.His expulsion is thought to be the first of its kind and comes at a time when British and EU relations with Russia are increasingly strained. The European Commission in Moscow has reportedly advised other such experts to check their visa status. While officials said the lecturers were supposed to acquire business visas, host organisations have often facilitated tourist visas in the past because they are easier and faster to acquire. Until now, this appears to have been tolerated by the Russian authorities.Prof Bowring was fined £40 and given 48 hours to leave the country, arriving back in Britain on Nov 17.It is not the first time that he has been ordered out of Russia. He was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport in November 2005 and expelled as he tried to attend the trial of a newspaper editor.Yesterday Russia criticised the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE] which announced on Nov 16 that it was abandoning plans to monitor elections because of difficulties acquiring visas for its monitors.Russia only issued a belated invitation to 70 observers from the OSCE to cover the Dec 2 vote. Previous missions had involved about 400 monitors.An official statement from the Russian foreign ministry yesterday accused the OSCE of “a flagrant unwillingness to follow the regulations established in Russian legislation and an attempt to impose a monitoring system that was a product of the office’s own invention”.