Reporters Without Borders is dismayed to learn that French freelance journalist Anne Nivat was forced to leave Russia today after spending 10 days gathering information about opposition groups in the provinces.
“It is very disturbing that that the federal immigration authorities cited political as well as bureaucratic reasons for withdrawing Nivat’s business visa.” Reporters Without Borders said. “Does this mean that it is a crime in Russia to interview representatives of the legal opposition, including ones who are well-established?
“It is also shocking to learn that the immigration officials knew everything about her movements during the preceding days in a remote region. The authorities seem to be getting more and more nervous in the run-up to the presidential election, when there is every chance that things may not run according to plan. How far are they prepared to go?”
Nivat was escorted to a police station in Vladimir (200 km east of Moscow) at around 7 p.m. on 10 February and was interrogated for about four hours by members of the Federal Immigration Department. Referring to an “administrative offence,” they finally cancelled her business visa and replaced it with a transit visa requiring that she leave the country within three days.
At the same time, they clearly told her that her meetings with opposition representatives in Vladimir and the far-north region of Karelia were “not appreciated.”
A respected specialist in Russian and Caucasian issues who has visited Russia many times in the past, Nivat had arrived in Russia on 31 January to investigate the opposition in the regions. It is not easy for freelance journalists to obtain a press visa.
She told Reporters Without Borders: “It particularly bothered me after visiting Russia for 10 years to have proof that the authorities knew all about my meetings. This incident is evidence of a tougher line being taken on the eve of a presidential election whose outcome is unpredictable.”
The political and media climate accompanying the campaign for the 4 March presidential election is unprecedented. Ever since last December’s disputed parliamentary elections, demonstrations of a size not since in the Soviet Union’s fall have been taking place to demand “fair elections.”
The opposition has managed to get some coverage on the governmental TV stations. Several newsrooms seem to be swinging between a return to relative outspokenness and sudden dismissals. Political clashes are also widespread on the Internet, accompanied by DDoS attacks, email hacking and propaganda campaigns.