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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reporter Seeks Asylum in Finland

A Russian journalist has requested political asylum in Finland after having problems with the Russian authorities and a nationalist group over her reports about a Chechen man being mistreated in a Volgograd prison.

Yelena Maglevannaya, 27, a Volgograd reporter for the Moscow-based opposition newspaper Svobodnoye Slovo, or Free Word, fled to Finland after a court ordered her to publish a retraction of her articles about the Chechen inmate, whom she said was tortured because of his nationality.

"All this is the honest truth," Maglevannaya said of her articles by telephone from Finland on Monday. "I am not going to publish a denial, which means I can be prosecuted as a criminal."

Failure to fulfill a court order can be punished by up to two years in prison.

Svobodnoye Slovo is the mouthpiece of the Democratic Union, which is headed by prominent human rights activist and Kremlin critic Valeria Novodvorskaya.

Maglevannaya went to Helsinki to participate in a forum on human rights last Monday and Tuesday. She filed her request for political asylum on Thursday and was told that it would take several months to consider.

Volgograd's Kirovsky District Court ordered Maglevannaya on May 13 to retract articles about Chechen inmate Zubayr Zubayrayev that she wrote between September and May. The court also ordered her to pay 200,000 rubles ($6,500) for defaming the local branch of the Federal Prison Service, which filed the lawsuit.

A Moscow spokesman of the Federal Prison Service said Zubayrayev "didn't make any serious claims" about prison conditions during a meeting with Maglevannaya and several human rights activists that was organized by the Volgograd branch of the Federal Prison Service after Maglevannaya's initial articles about Zubayrayev. "After this, Maglevannaya continued to write her stories, which forced us file the lawsuit," spokesman Yevgeny Saurin said.

Saurin also said the Federal Prison Service had presented video recordings in court that proved that no one had beaten Zubayrayev but that "he had beaten himself."

Maglevannaya accused prison officers of beating Zubayrayev with plastic bottles and piercing his feet with nails, among other things.

Zubayrayev is serving a five-year sentence after being convicted of transporting explosives and assaulting a police officer.

Maglevannaya said she suspected that the court had been pressured to rule against her.

Maglevannaya also said she feared that her life was in danger in Russia after messages that she should be killed for her reports were posted on the web site of a nationalist group, the Russian Nationwide Union. She said a doctor at the prison where the Chechen inmate was incarcerated belonged to the nationalist group and had posted a photo of her on the web site with the headline, "Enemies Should Be Known by Face."

Finnish authorities have placed Maglevannaya in a dormitory for refugees, she said.

Repeated calls to the Finnish Interior Ministry, which oversees requests for political asylum, went unanswered late Monday afternoon.

More than 15 Russian journalists covering political issues have requested asylum abroad since Vladimir Putin assumed power nine years ago, said Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations.

"They can't stand the working conditions [in Russia]," Panfilov said.

In April 2008, former Kommersant reporter Yelena Tregubova, who published a tell-all book about her days covering the Kremlin, received political asylum in Britain.

In 2007, Alexander Kosvintsev, a journalist who fled Kemerovo over threats from local authorities, received asylum in Ukraine.

Also in 2007, Radio Liberty reporter Yury Bagrov and Regnum news agency editor Fatima Tlisova, who both wrote about human rights abuses of Chechens, received political asylum in the United States, Kommersant reported Monday.

Volgograd prosecutors have not made any public comments about whether they will pursue criminal charges against Maglevannaya.

Maglevannaya said she wished she could return home. "I want to remain safe and continue doing my job," she said.