BBC journalist speaks of ‘increasingly repressive’ Russia ahead of expulsion

A senior BBC journalist who is to be expelled from Russia has condemned “an increasingly repressive environment” for critical journalists in the country.

Sarah Rainsford, whose visa is due to expire at the end of the month and will not be renewed, said her impending departure came in the context of “a massive deterioration in relations between Russia and the UK” and attacks on press freedom.

“I wasn’t expecting this to happen,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “There were clear signs for Russian media – there have been really serious problems recently for Russian independent journalists – but until now the foreign press had been somehow shielded from all of that. This is a clear sign that things have changed.

“It’s another really bad sign of the state of affairs in Russia and another downturn in the relationship between Russia and the world, and a sign that Russia is increasingly closing in on itself.”

The state broadcaster Rossiya-24 first reported the decision on Thursday evening, calling it a response to alleged UK refusals or delays in issuing visas to Russian journalists and past threats that Ofcom could strip the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT of its licence.

The report also claimed that correspondents from RT and state-owned Sputnik were not being accredited for events. But the British embassy in Moscow has denied that any Russian journalists have been discriminated against in the UK and decried Rainsford’s effective expulsion as “retrograde” and “unjustified”.

Rainsford said she was caught in a wider diplomatic and political game. “We were told officially about one case that is two years old, a specific person who was not extended to stay in the UK as a journalist,” she said. “There are also separate reasons I’ve been given, including sanctions by the British government against Russian citizens over human rights violations in Chechnya and for corruption.”

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When she was told her visa would not be renewed, she said she told those sent to deliver the news: “I’m not your enemy. I’ve tried my hardest to understand this country and tell it’s story, and that of the people here. It is something that’s very close to my heart and you’re removing someone who understands Russia, who speaks directly to people and tries to explain Russia to the world.”

She said the Russian state did not want people like that in the country. “It’s much easier to have fewer people here who understand and can talk directly to people and hear their stories and to relate them,” she told Today. “It’s indicative of an increasingly difficult and repressive environment.” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Following sustained attacks on press freedom in the country, she said there were few Russian journalists remaining who sought to report independently and freely amid extremely difficult circumstances.

“They’re coming for the press,” she said. “We wake up every day now and hear news about someone else who has had a police search of their flat, someone else who is in court, or has left the country. The number of people leaving the country now is extraordinary, I’ve never seen anything like that.”

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