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Criminalizing Journalists in the Caucasus: Valery Dzutsev's Experience

This post is part of a series of reports from Fatima's project on the brutal censorship of journalists in the North Caucasus published in advance of her upcoming feature story in the fall issue of the Nieman Reports.

Valery Dzutsev's hometown Vladikavkaz is located about 9 miles away from Beslan, where the local school was taken hostage by terrorists in September of 2004. For three days about 1,200 children, parents and teachers were blocked in a school gym. Approximately 334 of them died during the hostage crisis. Valery had witnessed the drama, reporting for the Moscow Times. Two weeks after Beslan, Dzutsev was taken to the hospital with intense abdominal pain. The doctors informed him that the internal bleeding was the direct result of psychological trauma.

One of Valery's assignments as a coordinator for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR, an NGO based in London, UK) was to organize trainings for local journalists. Journalists who participated in the training say that afterwards they were interrogated by the FSB. They were told that Dzutsev was not a journalist but a "western spy". Local journalists were advised to refuse attendance if invited in the future. By compromising Dzutsev's professional reputation and frightening journalists, the FSB effectively reduced the number of participants in such trainings -- although with the absence of journalism schools in the North Caucasus, IWPR's efforts have been highly needed.

In 2007 the local Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) issued a criminal investigation against Dzutsev accusing him of tax evasion. Since Valery had paid the taxes, the case never reached the court, but it wasn't dismissed either. The MVD searched Valery's IWRP office and confiscated his computers, which were never returned. Later, a source privately told Valery's lawyer that the security police were under orders to pin any type of crime on Valery and then send him to jail.

Earlier in 2006, Valery's supervisor, the head of the IWPR's Caucasus operations Tom de Waal, received a message from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that his visa had been cancelled and that his re-entry to Russia was denied. Lastly, by December of 2007 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ordered the closing of all the Russian offices of the British Council (an NGO specializing in educational and cultural opportunities).

In the fall of 2007 Valery was granted a fellowship at the University of Maryland. He left Vladikavkaz sincerely believing that he would return after obtaining his master's degree. But as soon as Valery left Russia the local MVD put his name on a list of wanted individuals without specifying the type of crime. His relatives have been constantly interrogated by the FSB.

"They have sent me a clear message, that if I come back, nothing will be changed for me after these years. They were intentionally forcing me either to quit journalism or never return home," Valery said, explaining why he had decided to apply for political asylum in the United States. When Valery left Vladikavkaz his wife Regina was pregnant. Valery saw his daughter for the first time when she was two years old. He cut off connections with his other relatives in Russia to protect them from future prosecution.

Journalist Alan Tshurbaev, who replaced Valery Dzutsev as a coordinator of IWPR in the North Caucasus, was constantly harassed by the FSB. In 2008, after the office in Vladikavkaz was searched again and computers confiscated, the IWPR announced that it was closing its office in the North Caucasus.