Russian Israeli journalist barred from entering Serbia

washington — A Russian Israeli freelance journalist who has been labeled a “foreign agent” by Moscow said Wednesday that he was banned from entering Serbia because of alleged security risks.

In a Zoom interview with VOA, Roman Perl said he landed at the airport in Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, for a personal visit Saturday. He was kept waiting for about eight hours before being handed an order blocking his entry.

“They gave me a paper stating that there are security risks if I were to be on Serbian soil,” Perl said.

The Russian government designated Perl a “foreign agent” in 2021, a legal term the Kremlin has used since 2012 to enforce its harsh crackdown on news outlets and civil society groups. The law prompted Perl to depart Russia for Israel.

Press freedom experts expressed concern about the incident.

“It’s very worrying because it may confirm that the Serbian authorities are working with the Russian ones,” Jeanne Cavelier, the head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at Reporters Without Borders, told VOA from Paris. “To go to Serbia could be a great danger for journalists.”

Perl, who has previously produced documentaries for Current Time TV, said he was traveling to Belgrade to visit a friend.

Perl said it was “possible that Russian authorities can, in certain cases, persuade the Serbs to do something the Russian side deems necessary.” But, he added, Serbia may have blocked him over his brief detention in Belgrade in 2023.

While filming a documentary about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at that time, one of his interviewees unfurled the Ukrainian flag near the Russian Embassy, he said.

“Then the members of the gendarmerie approached us and told us that the embassy had called them to remove us from the area,” he said.

Perl was then held in police custody for a few hours before being released without charge.

Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Information and Telecommunications and Border Police did not reply to emails from VOA’s Serbian Service requesting comment. Serbia’s Washington embassy also did not immediately reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Although Serbia has a vibrant media landscape, reporters often face political pressure, and impunity for crimes against journalists tends to be the norm, according to press freedom groups.

The threat of impunity in Serbia was highlighted earlier this year. In February, four people who were previously charged with the 1999 murder of prominent Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija were acquitted in an appeals trial.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Serbia 98th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom.

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