Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of three Polish public TV journalists by Russian secret service agents for 14 hours on the night of 29 May in the south eastern republic of Ingushetia. They had been in the region of a month and had been trying to interview Chechen leaders. Much of the video footage they had shot during the month was seized while they were held.
"The Russian authorities have once again shown their determination to impose a complete news blackout on events in Chechnya by preventing foreign journalist from carrying out investigative work," the press freedom organisation said.
"We condemn the confiscation of the material they had filmed," the organization said. "This behaviour constitutes a deliberate obstruction of access to information and a violation of article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. We point out that Russia is one of the 46 members of the Council of Europe and as such is supposed to respect the convention."
The three journalists, Mariusz Pilis, Marcin Mamon and cameraman Tomasz Glowacki, work for the Polish public TV corporation TVP and had been preparing a report on the northern Caucasus for TVPI, Poland's leading public TV station.
They were arrested in their hotel in Nazran on the evening of 29 May while waiting for a phone call from the Chechen capital of Grozny which they hoped would lead to interview with the Chechen president and deputy prime minister.
They were taken to an interior ministry building and were interrogated separately by members of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB). Mamon, who has been in contact with TVP headquarters, said the Russians accused them of not having all the necessary papers for travelling in Ingushetia. The journalists insisted that their visas and press accreditation were valid for another three weeks.
There were finally released after 14 hours of interrogation, whereupon they learned that in the meantime plain-clothes men had gone to the premises of a Polish humanitarian aid organization and took 18 videotapes which they had left there, and which contained material they had filmed in the past month, above all in Chechnya.
The FSB claimed to know nothing about the confiscation of the videotapes. The three journalists stayed in Nazran to try to recover the material but the authorities "invited" them to leave Ingushetia on the evening of 31 May. They therefore went to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia, where they are now, awaiting a Polish diplomat who was due to arrive there this afternoon. They told TVP they have they feeling they are being followed.