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Elena Maglevannaya will not give up


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The Russian freelance journalist and human rights activist, Elena Maglevannaya, who has applied for asylum in Finland, continues her work at the refugee reception centre in Joutseno, on the Finnish-Russian border.

Maglevannaya has been waiting for a decision on her asylum application for over a year now. If the Finnish immigration authorities grant her asylum, Maglevannaya vows to continue writing about human rights violations in Chechnya.

“It is impossible for me to return to Russia; that would be a death sentence,” says Maglevannaya. She has finally received an invitation to a hearing at the Finnish Immigration Service, where she will have an opportunity to recount her reasons to apply for asylum.

“I am excited, but I have great trust in the European system. Here in Finland, there is rule of law. I have often been in a situation where law has no meaning or it does not exist at all,” Maglevannaya says.

Chechnya turned her into a journalist

Elena, 28, was born in the southern Russian city of Volgograd. She started to work as a journalist after witnessing the repression against Chechens in Russia.

“I witnessed so many human rights violations that I could not just stand by; I had to do something, and that is why I started to write,” she recounts.

Maglevannaya has written for the Volgograd-based newspaper, Svobodnoye Slovo (Free Speech). In her articles, she took up especially human rights violations in Chechnya: lack of justice, prisons, and torture.

“I still receive letters from people in prison and their relatives,” Elena says. She shows stacks of letters that she stores in her small room in the refugee reception centre in Joutseno.

Fines, harassment, and threats

In Russia, Maglevannaya faced harassment and threats because of her articles. She was fined RUR 200,000 (EUR 5,125) for libel after publishing information about torture in a prison in Volgograd. Also, she has received several death threats from nationalist organisations.

“I am, of course, quite unable to pay such a sum. I would thus face prison in Russia,” Elena says.

Maglevannaya’s greatest “sin” in Russia was to write about the fate of Zubair Zubairaev, a Chechen who was imprisoned in Volgograd. Amnesty International, among other organisations, has campaigned for Zubairaev. Elena has cooperated with several Russian and international human rights organisations in the case.

“Russia violates human rights by sentencing innocent people, practicing torture, and denying freedom of speech. The situation is getting worse by the year. The work of human rights defenders and journalists is getting more and more difficult,” Maglevannaya warns.

Asylum would enable work to continue

Elena Maglevannaya applied for asylum in Finland after attending the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum’s third annual conference in Helsinki in May 2009.

“It does not really matter that I have applied for asylum in Finland; what matters is that I can continue my work to defend human rights in Russia. It is clear that I can no longer continue writing in Russia,” Maglevannaya says.
“One person can easily disappear in Russia, and even more so in Chechnya,” she notes.
Elena Maglevannaya has won the support of many journalists and organisations defending journalists, including the Union of Journalists in Finland, as well as many human rights organisations.
“I have received support from all over the world. I now see that my work has a meaning and that I have many friends. This helps me continue and believe in my cause,” Elena concludes.

This article first appeared in Finnish on YLE on 6 July 2010:

[Translation: Kerkko Paananen]

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