Russia has denied Thomas Nilsen, Editor-in-Chief of the Independent Barents Observer, entry to the country on the grounds of national security.
The denial came as a complete shock to Nilsen, who has worked close on Russia for more than 20 years.
- This was not expected, rather the contrary! We live in a time when the climate between the West and Russia has grown colder, while Russia at the same time emphasizes that the Arctic is an area of dialogue. However, I never thought I would be shut out from that dialogue, Nilsen says, referring amongst others to the conference "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue" which takes place in Arkhangelsk later this month.
Papers in order
In order to work as a journalist in Russia, one must have a separate press visa in addition to permission to work as a journalist in the country. Nilsen has all this in place. Nor has he had any prior difficulties with his documents.
- I have never before had any problems with working in Russia, Nilsen says. He has no answer as to why exactly he has been denied visa.
- However, it is no secret that FSB (the Federal Security Bureau in Russia) has grudges against the Independent Barents Observer, he says.
The paragraph used to deny Nilsen entry can be used against persons who have former convictions, have HIV, do not have their papers in order or constitute a danger to national security.
- I have no convictions, I do not have HIV, and I have my papers in order. So they have to think I am a threat to their national security. Though I cannot answer to what danger I may constitute, he adds dryly.
Can it be reversed?
He is meeting with the Russian Consul General today, and hopes to find out why this has happened and whether or not it is reversible. The denied entry runs until November 2021, nearly five years onwards.
- Do you think it is reversible?
- After having worked with Soviet and Russia for 25 years, I have learned that it would be naïve to try to predict tomorrow, so I have no opinion on that. Though I work with that as a starting point, of course, Nilsen says.
Nearly 50 years since similar case
Last time he was at work in Russia was in December 2016. Now there may be another five years before Nilsen is allowed to enter Russia again.
- I will not claim having full overview, but as far as I can remember, the last Norwegian journalist to be denied entry to the then-Soviet Union was Per Egil Hegge, when working for Aftenposten back in 1969, Nilsen tells.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union he can only think of three or four journalists who have been denied entry, none of them Norwegians, and all of them being denied entry on the grounds of not having their papers in order.
- Very regrettable
Assistant Secretary General of the Association of Norwegian Editors, Reidun Kjelling Nybø, thinks it is very regrettable and unusual that a journalist is denied entry to Russia.
- We know that the freedom of the press has been under pressure in Russia lately, but that has mostly had consequences for Russian journalists, Nybø says.
She hopes Norwegian authorities will get involved in the situation.
- We of the Editors' Association must consider whether this is something that we want to continue working on. We must first of all find out why this has happened, she says.