Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

the return




Just half a year in Russia and Pete Singer, no longer a cub reporter, was in The New York Times. On the editorial page. Under the headline "Russia's American Prisoner."


"Few foreign journalists have had the insight and the luck to predict what would happen in a country as difficult to understand as Russia. Peter Singer went to Moscow as a reporter for The New York News, which shut down while he was still in midair. Far from despairing, Mr. Singer went on to develop a career in Russian journalism. Using his unique perspective, he raised alarm about the evident stagnation of the Russian government. Indeed, he made specific, daring recommendations. A mere two weeks later, the government took his advice, but now, instead of expressing its gratitude, Russia is prosecuting him for espionage. Amnesty International considers him its first major Russian prisoner of conscience case since Andrei Sakharov. His trial is likely to begin next month, underscoring the risks journalists face in a Russia whose security service and justice system can still be twisted against dissidents, Soviet-style.


"Mr. Singer works for Progress, a magazine that publishes both a Russian-language and an English-language version. He was arrested earlier this year after authoring a series of editorials pointing to specific ills and proffering real solutions to the problems. He was jailed for five weeks, and has been confined to Moscow for the past several months, with the exception of a brief furlough to visit his father in Massachusetts.


"Since Mr. Singer's arrest, the FSB, the KGB's successor, has spared no expense in tracking down Mr. Singer's accomplices and informants. It seems everyone with whom Mr. Singer had contact in his work as a journalist has been harassed. The indictment of Mr. Singer cites classified decrees that are still kept from his lawyer, which violates the Russian Constitution and hinders his defense. He will be tried in secret by a judge and two laymen, who will be chosen by the FSB. The U.S. State Department says that the facts of the case suggest his detention was politically motivated. Vice President Al Gore has taken up his cause in meetings with Russian leaders, but has not raised the matter in public.


"With Russia at a crossroads, Mr. Singer's disturbing case may be a warning of the country's possible future. American journalists of an older generation than Mr. Singer still remember what it was like to work in a country where a wrong word could make one persona non grata -- or worse."


Pete, for one, was impressed. First of all, he learned a lot of things, like that his trial may be next month and that he'd be tried in secret. And Gore knew who he was! And Amnesty thought he was like Sakharov! Pete felt a new respect for himself.


He needed it. Things had been a disaster ever since he got to the United States. He'd gone on that stupid talk show and very nearly blabbed to the whole country about his mother's affair -- well, he blabbed enough for his father to understand, and the older Singer spent the week alternating between trying to get his son to tell him who she was cheating on him with and trying to get him to say it wasn't so. Pete's embarrassed refusal to fulfill the former request belied his enthusiastic willingness to oblige on the latter. So reading this about himself on the plane back to Moscow made him feel wanted, important, and a little bit like he was coming home. And did this mean President Clinton knew who he was too? Had he mentioned his case to Yeltsin during the summit? The mind boggled.


Sheremetyevo brought back a flood of memories. Less than seven months ago he'd arrived here full of hope and wonder, naive and open to new impressions. Now he felt world-weary, battered but mature. The hustle and bustle of it all was his hustle and bustle now.


Back then he'd been carrying bags full of shirts and sweaters, socks and blank reporters' notebooks. Now he was loaded down with packs of statements from Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch -- all about him. And, of course, he was carrying a lot of dollars, in light of the financial crisis, which he, Pete Singer, would surely and easily have predicted if only he'd been allowed to go on with what he was doing. After reading the New York Times editorial, Pete knew that it really was all about him, and that his lawyer's and that ex-ambassador guy's ideas about it all being a giant misunderstanding in which Pete accidentally got caught up -- that was ridiculous. Maybe they were jealous.


The young officer at customs finished looking at all the papers in Pete's bag. "The bag?" he asked.


"What?" Pete responded.


"Bag? You need?"


"Do I need my bag?"


"Yes. You need?"


"Of course, I need my bag."


"Yes?"


"Yes."


"OK." The officer quickly removed the four large stacks of photocopies and handed Pete the empty bag.