Russian journalist seeks asylum in Finland

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According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, a court found Maglevannaya guilty of spreading disinformation after she wrote a story criticising the torture of a Chechen prisoner.

Helsinki -- A campaigning Russian journalist has sought political asylum in neighbouring Finland after receiving threats in her homeland, a Finnish human rights group said Monday.

Elena Maglevannaya "submitted her asylum application last Thursday to police," Anu Harju, a member of the group Finrosforum, told AFP.

Maglevannaya, who worked for the Volgograd-based daily newspaper Free Speech, attended a seminar in Helsinki last week organised by Finrosforum, an organisation promoting democracy and human rights in Russia.

Russia's human rights situation is expected to be on the agenda on Wednesday when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets his Finnish counterpart Matti Vanhanen and President Tarja Halonen in Helsinki.

Harju said Maglevannaya had angered authorities and a Communist youth organisation by writing articles on poor conditions in prisons.

"A leading doctor at a prison in Volgograd told her he would put her in a mental hospital if she continued to write," Harju said.

According to Russian newspaper Kommersant, a court found Maglevannaya guilty of spreading disinformation after she wrote a story criticising the torture of a Chechen prisoner.

Maglevannaya was ordered to pay a fine of 200,000 rubles (4,590 euros, 6,534 dollars) and to publish a denial, which she refused to do.

"The court case and fines made her decide that she had to leave the country because she could not write freely," Harju said.

The Russian journalist is now staying at an asylum centre and the processing of her application is expected to take several months.

"I assume she will appeal if her asylum application is denied and that could also take many months," Harju said.

In Moscow, prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, who worked with Maglevannaya on the case of the Chechen prisoner, praised her for helping to expose abuses in the Russian prison system.

"Each region has one or two special prison colonies where they send the most obstinate prisoners, the so-called criminal authorities, in order to break them. This is how the whole prison system works," Ponomaryov said.

He said it was no surprise that Maglevannaya had requested political asylum, saying that journalists in the Russian provinces often experience retaliation for critical reporting.

"It was no surprise to me that she asked for political asylum in Finland.... In Volgograd it is harder to be an independent journalist than in Moscow," Ponomaryov said.

Maglevannaya is not the first Russian journalist to apply for political asylum in the West claiming persecution at home.

In 2007 the United States granted refugee status to two former reporters for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Yury Bagrov and Fatima Tlisova, who had reported on abuses in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.

In February, the Finnish immigration service denied asylum to Alexander Novikov, who claimed he was recruited by Russia's security service FSB to spy on a liberal opposition group. He said he feared for his safety if deported to Russia.

Novikov's appeal has not gone to court yet.

AFP/Expatica

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