Norwegian editor banned from Russia takes FSB to court

The Independent Barents Observer editor Thomas Nilsen. (Atle Staalesen/The Independent Barents Observer)

Eye on the Arctic editor’s note: The Independent Barents Observer is part of the Eye on the Arctic circumpolar news partnership. The below story is an IBO report on the lawsuit launched to overturn the ban blocking IBO editor Thomas Nilsen from entering Russia.

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The rejected entry to Russia of Thomas Nilsen is illegal, a group of lawyers defending the expelled newspaper editor argues.

«The FSB border guards violated Thomas Nilsen’s right to enter Russia, did not provide him with information about the grounds of the ban and ultimately deprived him of his legitimate right to freedom of expression and his professional activities as journalist», Ivan Pavlov says.

He represents the Team 29, a group of lawyers and journalists, which this spring took on the case of Nilsen following the latter’s rejected entry to Russia.

Thomas Nilsen and Team 29 are now taking the case to court. The suit will be handled by the City Court of Petrozavodsk, Republic of Karelia, in the city which houses the regional branch of the FSB Border Guards.

«A threat against national security»

The Barents Observer editor was on 8th March this year stopped at Borisoglebsk, the border checkpoint between Russia and Norway, and told that he was no longer wanted in Russia. The travel ban will last for five years, the FSB told the editor.

No explanation of the ban was given, only that Nilsen represented a «threat against Russian national security». According to the Russian Embassy in Norway, Nilsen was simply put on a so-called «stop-list» of unwanted individuals as a response to the EU’s and Norway’s list of sanctioned individuals from Russia.

«It is still not clear, why exactly he was rejected entry and in which way he threatens Russia’s national security», Ivan Pavlov says to Interfax.

Unconstitutional decision

The law suit filed to the Petrozavodsk City Court reads that the FSB’s travel ban is illegal because it contradicts with the Russian Constitution and is not based on the decision of a competent body.

«The defense argues that the travel ban would have been legal only if it was rooted in a legal grounds and on a decision of a competent state body and that it was based on actual and credible and documented circumstances. Furthermore, the decision to ban his entry to the country would […] have to be presented to him in the form of copy of the juridical decision», the document reads.

Security Service interference in journalism

Thomas Nilsen underlines that the FSB has not right to meddle in journalism.

«The Russian constitution gives me the right to enter the country, as well as to do my job as a journalist. All my papers, visa and press-accreditation, were valid and I had not violated any laws.  Any decision by FSB to stop me must be based in law. Consequently, FSB not presented any legal grounds to deny me from doing my job in Russia,» he says.

«It is obviously wrong when FSB starts to interfere with journalism. A country’s security service should focus on protecting the rights of reporters, not violating such fundamental freedoms.»

Lawyers for press freedom

The Team 29 (Komanda 29) has since its establishment in 2015 taken on a number of cases of government violation of human rights, press freedom and freedom of expression.

Ivan Pavlov, the Team leader, like many of Its members previously represented the Freedom of Information Foundation, a NGO that worked for the promotion and defense of freedom of information in Russia. In 2014, the NGO was included in the so-called list of «foreign agents», and subsequently laid down its activities.

The Team 29 is organized as an informal association of lawyers and journalists. Included in the group are a number of both lawyers and journalists.

Broad international support

The FSB’s squeeze of Barents Observer Editor Thomas Nilsen has attracted wide-reaching attention both in Russia and internationally.

On June 13th, the case was registered on the European Human Rights Convention’s Media freedom alerts site, a platform used by the Council to promote the protection and safety of journalists.

In a letter addressed to the Russian Embassy in Norway, the Norwegian Union of Journalists condemned the expulsion of Nilsen.

«It is very serious when a country’s authorities decide who is to be allowed to report from the country, and which journalists are unwanted, all judging from the media coverage of the respective journalist», the letter from the Journalist Union reads.

The Union says it «strongly protests Russia’s treatment of Thomas Nilsen», and demands an explanation why he is considered «a threat to the country’s national security».

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Canada’s foreign affairs minister looks to thaw relations with Russia at Arctic summit, Radio Canada International

Finland: Norway and Sweden surpass Finland in 2017 press freedom rankings, Yle News

Norway: Barents Observer Editor Thomas Nilsen is declared unwanted in Russia by FSB, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Norway’s selective approach for cooperation is not tenable : Russia’s Oslo Embassy, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Rural citizen journalism and fake news in the spotlight in North Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska’s Arctic policy adviser falls victim to fake news — in Russia, Alaska Dispatch News

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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