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By Shabnam Nasimi
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Russian Journalists Who Fear Persecution By Putin Regime Call For Better Protection From UK

Russian Journalists Who Fear Persecution By Putin Regime Call For Better Protection From UK

Russian news producer Marina Ovsyannikova (Alamy)

4 min read

There are calls for Russian journalists and other citizens who face persecution for opposing the state to be offered enhanced legal routes to come to the UK.

Under new laws implemented by the Russian state earlier this month, citizens who speak out against the ongoing invasion of Ukraine or criticise the state could face huge fines and up to 15 years in prison.

It is believed that as many as 150 journalists have already fled the country since the start of the invasion on 24 February. 

Some journalists who have chosen to flee to other countries across Europe from Russia say they’ve faced challenges finding accommodation, opening bank accounts and obtaining visas.

There are currently no direct flights to and from Russia from the UK, creating further barriers for those who have connections to Britain.

Steve Valdez-Symonds, Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director, warned that the UK’s current asylum system meant it would be very difficult for Russian journalists escaping imprisonment to come here. 

“The UK government generally makes no provision for providing asylum to people fleeing persecution – whether from Russia’s bombs and political repression, or terror and torture in other countries – unless people can first get to the UK without a visa for doing so,” he told PoliticsHome.

He added that provisions set forward in the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, could give the UK “extensive powers to imprison, make destitute and exclude from asylum, refugees from Russia, Afghanistan, Eritrea and elsewhere who do exercise their rights to seek asylum here.”

“Amnesty calls on the Government to uphold its shared international commitments under the Refugee Convention and take steps to provide safe routes for refugees to reach the UK – whether it is their journalism, trade unionism, religious beliefs or some other factor that puts them at risk of persecution.”

The safety of Russian journalists critical of the state attracted international attention this week after news producer Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted a live TV news programme to protest against the war in Ukraine.

She ran onto the set of a news programme of the country’s state-controlled Channel 1 holding a sign reading: "No war, stop the war, don't believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here."

Ovsyannikova told the BBC she was interrogated and detained by police for 14 hours before being fined £210 for a video she posted online prior to the incident. It is not yet clear if she will face separate charges relating to her protest on live TV.

Seven press organisations have cosigned a letter by Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) calling for EU states to “set a global example” by providing visa waivers for Russian and Belarusian journalists “seeking refuge from war and repression”.

The letter read: “Leading broadcasters have been silenced or shuttered; dozens of news websites have been blocked; use of the word 'invasion' or 'war' have been banned; and a new law criminalising what authorities deem to be 'fake' news or information about the armed forces could see journalists jailed for up to 15 years.”

“Action is urgently needed to ensure Russia’s independent media is not destroyed altogether. Our organisations call on all EU Member States to provide safe havens for dissident Russian journalists to re-establish their bases of operations and continue reporting.”

Marie Oleinik is among journalists who have already left Russia, fearing both persecution by the state and that their partner may be conscripted in the army.

“For our safety, we could no longer stay in Russia, but it felt like every door was being slammed shut in front of us. Air travel between Russia and [the] EU was halted, and the currency exchange soared into outer space, rendering every international transaction unaffordable,” she wrote in a blog post.

Oleinik and her partner managed to cross into Armenia before eventually travelling to Georgia, a country she has a connection to via her father.

She recounts how Russians in the region have faced considerable hostility from the areas they’ve passed through, including interrogation at the border and being refused rental properties.

“While the world is rightfully welcoming people from Ukraine, it effectively turns its back on Russians like us, who have always despised Putin and his politics,” she continued.

“Visa and MasterCard are boycotting Russia, so they blocked all our bank cards. They are now useless plastic. Many countries stopped issuing visas to Russians, making it impossible to enter even if we were to seek political asylum.”

A Home Office spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, and said anyone eligible for political asylum should apply via the government website.

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