We journalists working in the countries of the former Soviet Union confront a constant menace: the risk of annoying repressive governments and subsequent deportation. But worse than deportation from a single state is the threat of being blacklisted -- or PNG’d -- from them all.
A new report by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, “Persona Non Grata: The CIS ban system for human rights defenders and journalists,” catalogues the practice of at least six Commonwealth of Independent States countries (Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), which have an agreement “where individuals who are denied entry to one of the six member states automatically are denied entry to the others.”
The topic has received little international attention in the past.
Paradoxically comparing the system to Europe’s Schengen visa agreement -- whereby an entry visa to one country facilitates cross-border travel in all -- the report describes how the six states share their “blacklists” of human rights activists and journalists. “Such decisions are usually made by the security services of the country in question, and those who are barred in this manner are neither provided with a reason for the ban, nor given any means of appeal,” the report says.
In recent years, attempts have been made to “normalize” this practice in states that traditionally have had a relatively liberal approach to foreign representatives of non-governmental organizations, placing a strain on their relations to foreign governments. This is reinforced by the fact that decisions to ban particular individuals from entering the country are made by the national security services, which often seem to operate completely outside of the norms the country otherwise adheres to.
The trend is increasing thanks to ongoing work by the CIS Executive Committee:
Examples of bans automatically extending to other CIS countries have been numerous since around 2004, and are increasing in frequency. Although official sources claim the Joint System is not yet operative, these cases would indicate that it is at least partially in place today, and has been for a few years already.
The report, which debates the legality of the practice and includes multiple examples of PNG’d human rights activists and journalists, including in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan (not part of the Joint System), is available here.