The organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned Serbia’s arrest of Natasha Tyshkevich, the former journalist of the Russian student newspaper Doxa, and the “deplorable conditions” in which the Serbian authorities held her.
“RSF is alarmed by a potentially deliberate attempt to intimidate Russian exile journalists,” said the organization on its official website, Danas reported.
After fleeing Russia last year to escape an arbitrary prison sentence and finding a refuge in Germany, Natasha Tyshkevich had not expected to be locked up in a European country.
Nonetheless, because she did not know she needed a visa in addition to her travel document provided by Germany, she was held for nearly two days by the Serbian authorities at Belgrade airport after landing there on 7 August.
“While it is legitimate to deny entry to a person who does not have a visa, placing them in police custody for more than 40 hours is a disproportionate measure. By treating Natasha Tyshkevich as a criminal, were the Serbian authorities trying to intimidate Russian exile journalists in order to please the Kremlin?” asked Pavol Szalai, the head of RSF’s European Union-Balkans desk.
When Tyshkevich flew to Belgrade on 7 August with the aim of visiting friends in Serbia, she only had the travel document provided by Germany.
The Russian authorities had confiscated her passport as part of proceedings against her and her three fellow editors at Doxa.
It was only when Serbian immigration officials denied her entry that she discovered that her travel document was not valid without a visa outside the European Union.
Instead of obliging Tyshkevich – who was in an airport transit area – to leave on a flight out of the country, the authorities arrested her and held her for more than 40 hours while failing to provide her with almost any food.
When she tearfully resisted entering the cell where they held her, the guards threatened to send her to “a real prison.”
On 9 August, she was finally put on a flight back to Malta, from where she had flown to Serbia.
Tyshkevich is one of the four journalists who worked for the independent Moscow student magazine Doxa and who were sentenced in 2021 to two years’ “corrective labor” over an online video in which they defended young Russians’ freedom of assembly.
They were under house arrest for almost a year after they were detained in April 2021 for posting a three-minute video on YouTube in which they said it was illegal to expel and intimidate students for participating in rallies in support of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Tyshkevich initially sought refuge in Armenia before moving to Germany.
The Russian authorities issued a warrant for her arrest in November 2022.