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Thursday, September 15, 2005

 

Russian journalist a prisoner in his city

From The Boston Globe:

It is well past closing time at the small cafe where this small city's hip young men and women often meet for an after-dinner espresso. The waitresses are steering patrons out the door, but Yuri Bagrov waves them off.

''Don't worry," he tells his guests, settling in again over his tea. The waitresses smile indulgently. Bagrov is what you might call a man about town -- he hasn't left Vladikavkaz, in the Caucasian republic of North Ossetia, in more than a year.

The brash, 29-year-old journalist is engaged in a war of nerves with Russia's Federal Security Service, and so far, the agency is ahead. Agents confiscated Bagrov's internal travel documents in August 2004, leaving him a virtual prisoner of the city.

''This is really getting tough to bear," said Bagrov, known for his often-controversial stories for US-funded Radio Liberty and, formerly, the Associated Press, in Russia's troubled north Caucasus region.

Bagrov said his problems began after a series of stories he wrote about smuggling and corruption. The most sensitive, he said, was a piece he wrote for the Associated Press describing the disappearance of a local prosecutor who had been investigating possible links between the FSB and the disappearance of dozens of young men in the Caucasian republic of Ingushetia.

Not long after, he said, 10 FSB agents arrived at his doorstep at 8 one morning and searched his house, car, and office. The warrant said they were looking for materials used to forge official documents, as well as weapons, drugs, and ammunition. But they took every piece of paper in the house.

''At 4 p.m., I was taken to the FSB," Bagrov said. ''The investigator told me to write an explanation of how I'd gotten Russian citizenship."

Bagrov was born in Tbilisi, which became capital of independent Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He carried an old Soviet passport long after he moved to Vladikavkaz, his mother's hometown, in 1992. He exchanged it for a Russian passport in 2003, but authorities said there was no registered court record of the new document, fined him the equivalent of $526, and briefly threatened him with deportation.

Then scarier things started to happen.

''There were phone calls to my wife, who was pregnant," he said. ''The caller would say, 'May I speak to the widow of Mr. Bagrov?' It was more than once that this happened."

With no identity documents, Bagrov was unable to leave Vladikavkaz or apply for new press accreditation to do his job. He missed the biggest story of his career when militants attacked a school in Beslan, 10 miles away.

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