Tallinn, 22 July 2005Tallinn, 07 July 2005
For immediate release


Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples
phone/fax: +372 644 9270
e-mail: suri@suri.ee

Finnish journalist denied Russian visa

Finnish journalist Ville Ropponen applied for Russian visa in the end of this December but his application was rejected it without explanation.

This autumn, Ropponen published a number of articles in several Finnish newspapers including Ilta Sanomat, Kaleva, and Voima on the political regime in the Republic of Mari El, an administrative unit of the Russian Federation.

This September, Ropponen visited two Finno-Ugric autonomous regions, Mari El and Mordovia. Among others, he met with representatives of the democratic opposition. In both regions, Russian special services applied pressure on him. In particular, he was interviewed by the Federal Security Service (FSB).

It is quite evident that Ropponen was denied visa due to political reasons. Ropponen says that the Russian authorities propose to finance and organise travel of foreign journalists in its territory to prevent their criticism of breaches of human rights and freedom of expression in Russia.

The Russian Federation is a signatory to basic international conventions on human rights.

Lately, the treatment of foreign journalists by the Russian authorities has worsened. Visas and work permits for journalists are delayed and conditioned by sending examples of texts to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The visa was denied to Matti Posio, a journalist of Finnish Aamulehti, while an attempt was made to reduce the number of work permits for the Finnish Yleisradio from twenty-five to five. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued the work permits only when the Yleisradio threatened to make the pressure public.

The Russian State Duma has drafted a law stipulating the denial of visas to foreigners who have demonstrated 'open disrespect to the Russian Federation and its federal authorities". In addition, visas may be denied for 'actions demonstrating disrespect' towards 'spiritual, cultural and social values historically rooted in the Russian Federation, or activities that caused substantial damage to the Russian Federation'.

The political regime established since 2001 in Mari El, a region situated in the Volga region and populated by the Finno-Ugric nation called the Maris, has clamped down severely on the political opponents of the local President Leonid Markelov. These repressions have been particularly directed against the Maris. During the Markelov's rule, dozens of journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists were physically assaulted or murdered. The oppression increased since the beginning of 2005 when Markelov was re-elected for the second term and opposition challenged the results of elections. Hundreds were fired from their jobs for political reasons this year.