Sochi Migration Service Catching Journalists

November 20, 2013
How the Olympics will be seen by viewers around the world will depend on the media. Photo by RIA Novosti.

A foreign journalist was briefly detained by the Federal Security Services (FSB) in Sochi yesterday, her audio recorder was temporarily confiscated, and her passport information was scanned by authorities. This is hardly the first time that press freedom in Sochi has been challenged, raising concerns that journalists will continue to be the target of Russia authorities as the winter games draw closer. Journalists will also not be allowed to use cell phones or “non professional” recording devices to capture pictures or video, a move that some suspect may prevent journalists from properly covering any stories they may find away from the limelight of the actual sporting events. Russian security services will also be gathering metadata and other information at the Olmypic games. – Ed.

Local agents of the Federal Migration Service (FMS) for the Central District of Sochi seized a journalist on 19 November for gathering information about the agency’s work, declaring her to be a “foreign agent” and attempting to take away her tape recorder. Yekaterina Lukyanova, an employee of a regional publication, was doing a work assignment for a journalist training course run by [the German foreign broadcaster] Deutsche Welle Academy. She was trying to write a story about how Russian fans will have to register in Sochi during the Olympics.

On 19 November, Lukyanova went to the local department of the Federal Migration Service in Sochi’s Central District in order to schedule a meeting with its director and talk with people who were waiting in line there.

As she was holding a tape recorder, Lukyanova attracted the attentions of officials at the department. Svetlana Savitskaya, deputy head of the FMS district office, invited her into her office, and then demanded that the correspondent provide explanations, accused her of violating the law, and then copied down her passport information and took away her tape recorder.

“She informed me that I was supposedly trying to compromise government agencies by gathering some hot information and asked who I was working for. When she found out I was gathering information for a Deutsche Welle training, Savitskaya declared me a ‘foreign agent.’ Even so, she could not indicate which law I was violating, exactly,” Lukyanova said.

Yekaterina refused to provide her home address to the official and informed her that she was not providing her consent to process her passport information, and also that she considered the confiscation of the tape recorder to be theft.

According to Lukyanova, it was this mention of a criminally-punishable offense that forced Savitskaya to return the tape recorder. However, officials at the FMS office then did as they pleased with her passport information; one of them grabbed the sheet of paper with the information copied down from her passport, and crying “I’ll run her through now!” ran toward the police station next door. Without waiting for his return, Yekaterina left the inhospitable FMS office. Nezavisimaya Gazeta was unable to get a comment from representatives of the FMS office, as phone calls went unanswered.

As Lukyanova told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the FMS was alerted to her intention to prepare materials about the difficulties encountered by Russian fans who are coming to the Olympics from the regions. We will recall that last week, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree obliging all Russian guests of the sports festivities to obtain a compulsory temporary [residential] registration permit in Sochi within three days of arriving in the city. But already, the Sochi offices of the FMS are not coping with the deluge of requests from those who wish to immediately legalize their stay in the city, and people are waiting in line to be seen for weeks.

“We have done trainings for journalists in many countries, including in the countries of the former USSR. We have run into similar problems in the past only in Uzbekistan, where the police detained our correspondents,” says Lidiya Ranert, project coordinator of the Deutsche Welle Academy. “No one has ever kicked us out of anywhere or demanded passport information. Even during the coverage of the Euro-2012 Football Championship in Kharkov, it was much easier for us to work.”

The Academy of the German media company Deutsche Welle is funded by the German government and regularly conducts trainings for journalists of developing countries, providing them the opportunity to work, including on major world-class events like the European Football Championship or the Olympics. As the organizers explain, many editors don’t have the financial capacity to send their employees to events on the scale of the Olympics.

“We had wanted to conduct a training right during the 2014 Olympic Games, but this turned out to be very costly. Therefore, we invited 14 journalists from the countries of the CIS to Sochi in November 2013, in order so that they could write stories for their editors about how the preparations for the Olympics were going, and how the townspeople are getting on,” says Ranert. According to Ranert, the participants in the training themselves select the topics they were to cover. The Deutsche Welle Academy trainers are tasked with helping journalists to produce more professional materials and gather more information to cover the topic more fully. The participants in the training are not given any ideological directives, the organizers insisted.

According to Ranert, the problems of labor migrants drew the greatest interest from journalists from the CIS – several participants had come from Central Asia, and they were concerned about what is happening to their compatriots in Sochi. Furthermore, the reporters are preparing materials about how much the city itself changed in the last seven years, about the residents’ problems in everyday life – the shut-offs of water, gas, and electricity. And of course everyone is interested in the status of the Olympic constructions and the issue of how the new stadiums, ski jumps and infrastructure will be used after the Olympics.