(Washington, DC--October 14, 2004) Correspondents with RFE/RL's Russian and Azerbaijani Services have faced new harrassment by local law enforcement officials within the past week as a result of their coverage of the Caucasus region. In the Azerbaijani case, it is hoped that further legal recourse may prove successful in clearing the correspondent's good name. In the Russian case, the correspondent may find himself not only unable to work, but facing jail time as well.
RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine, commenting on both situations, stated that "Our correspondents are committed to the letter and spirit of RFE/RL's Professional Code of Ethics, which reflect the highest standards of our profession. I am always dismayed when local elites use their powers to coerce and punish journalists for doing their jobs."
RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service regional correspondent Melahat Nasibova's appeal of her July 13 libel conviction by the Nakhichevan City Court was rejected by the regional Supreme Court on October 5. Nasibova will now take her appeal to the republican Court of Appeal in the Azerbaijani capital city of Baku. Nasibova has been accused by chief physician Rashid Nabatov of the Nakhichevan regional hospital of "slander," for allegedly misquoting him in a report on drug addiction in the Azerbaijani exclave that aired on RFE/RL's Azeri program on April 4, 2004.
RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Yuri Bagrov's fate is much more in question. Bagrov, who has covered the North Caucasus region for the past five years for The Associated Press and RFE/RL, learned on October 5 that prosecutors in the Iristonsky municipal district of North Ossetia had been investigating him for more than 3 weeks on charges of using a forged document to obtain a Russian passport -- a charge that carries a punishment, if convicted, of up to six months in jail. Bagrov, a former resident of Tbilisi, Georgia who has lived in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia since 1992, was granted Russian citizenship last year by the North-West Municipal District Court of North Ossetia on the basis of his permanent residency as well as the Russian citizenship held by his mother and his wife.
On August 25, four days before the presidential election in Chechnya that Bagrov planned to cover, officers of the FSB's North Ossetian Republican Directorate, bearing a warrant authorizing them to search for guns illicit drugs and illegal documents, searched his home and auto without informing Bagrov of his right to have a lawyer present. According to Bagrov, the FSB agents took his passport, birth and marriage certificates, university diploma, Dictaphone, computer, notes, even his wife's personal diary. Although most of the documents were returned to Bagrov two weeks later, he has yet to get his passport back.
Without a passport, Bagrov is unable to travel anywhere to cover news for RFE/RL, such as the Chechen elections, or the Beslan school tragedy -- which unfolded only 10 miles from his home in Vladikavkaz. As one of his RFE/RL colleagues, Oleg Kusov, noted to the Russian newspaper "Kommersant" on October 8, the investigation has left Bagrov "disabled" as a journalist. Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have spoken out in support of Bagrov's desire to get his passport back and resume his journalistic work, as has the Moscow-based Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service broadcasts five and one half hours of programming a day to Azerbaijan, produced in Prague and the service's Baku Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM signals provided by local affiliate stations. Azerbaijani Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.azadses.org and at www.rferl.org.
RFE/RL's Russian Service broadcasts are on the air 24 hours of a day, seven days a week, with programs produced in Prague and the service's Moscow, St. Petersburg and Ekaterinburg Bureaus and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, satellite and AM, FM, UKV and cable signals provided by local affiliate stations in Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine. Russian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at the service's website www.svoboda.org and at www.rferl.org.