Fatima Tlisova

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Fatima Tlisova (Adyghe: Фатима Тлисова) (born 1966) is a Russian (Circassian) journalist currently living in the United States.

Refugee status[edit]

Tlisova claims she has been facing severe intimidation for reporting on the ham-handed attempts to counter increasing Islamic and Chechen Insurgency in the violent North Caucasus region. She has been assaulted repeatedly since 2002 for filing reports not favourable to the Governments and Secret Services of the Republics of the North Caucasus, as well as the federal government of Vladimir Putin.[1] Her travails included being beaten and having her ribs broken, being poisoned, kidnapped and having cigarettes extinguished on her skin, and finally, her teenage son almost disappearing for good.

After more than a month of speculation in the media,[2][3] on 2007-06-28 the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists announced that Tlisova, along with Radio Liberty reporter Yuri Bagrov, had been granted political asylum in the United States,[4] but after reports by her denying this,[5] the announcement was changed to say that they had received "refugee status".


Tlisova started her career with the liberal biweekly Novaya Gazeta, one of whose reporters, Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered by a contract killer in October 2006. The paper is not officially banned, but sales are strongly discouraged, so much so that vendors will sell it only to known customers. Subsequently she became the Editor-in-Chief of the Caucasus desk for the Regnum News Agency. Since 2005, she was also working with the Associated Press. She had travelled widely in the region, filing reports from Adygea to Dagestan.

Her conflict with the authorities started in 2002, "a couple of days after her article on abusive practice of militaries in Chechnya was published by the Obschaya Gazeta".[3] One night, after a birthday party celebrating her 36th birthday, she had gone to the door of her apartment building to see off her guests. After they left, "a hand grabbed her and she says she was dragged around a corner and beaten by two large men. She spent several days in intensive care with broken ribs, a concussion and other injuries.".[6]

In January 2005, she faced considerable harassment for a series of articles about the murder of seven shareholders in the firm Kavkaztsement. A few months earlier, they had dared challenge the firm's majority shareholder Ali Kaitov, nephew of the corrupt and unpopular Republic president Mustafa Batdyev. Shortly after they went to see Kaitov at his dacha, gunshots were heard from the vicinity, and these seven people simply disappeared. They included Rasul Bogatyrev, a deputy in the state legislature; the family of the murdered raised vigorous protests, and the case drew considerable attention in the international press:

The relatives of the murdered wrote Vladimir Putin that considering the dacha near which their sons disappeared belonged to the son-in-law of the republic's president, they were compelled to express "categorical distrust in both the law-enforcement organs and the organs of state power of Karachaevo-Cherkessia" in investigating this case.[7]

After a month of official inaction, four of the seven dead bodies were found at the bottom of a mine; they had been dismembered and burnt with tyres as fuel. Subsequently a large rally protesting the local government overcame teargas and reinforced police lines to take over the presidential palace.[8] Fatima Tlisova was directly quoted in the international media as reporting from the scene:

RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Fatima Tlisova witnessed the incident. She sent the following report: "Almost all of offices in the White House [government building] have been ransacked. There is no information available yet about the whereabouts of President Batdyev. Almost every window in the building is broken. The surrounding area is filled with paper and broken furniture. Some government officials and ministers are watching the events from the streets adjacent to the White House."<[9]

Following Tlisova's coverage revealing further details of the murders, the Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry withdrew her accreditation. She was accused of illegally receiving a pension and criminal proceedings were initiated but were later dropped.[10]

Shortly after this, "a car with tinted glass pulled up to her on a Nalchik street and she was told to get inside if she wanted to see her children again."[6] Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (Federal Security Services, FSB) agents then took her to a nearby forest and extinguished cigarettes on every finger of her right hand, "so that you can write better".[1] She also reports two occasions when she feels she had been poisoned - once when she applied face cream, from a jar in her own home, which peeled the skin from her face and fingers (October 2003), and another time when she lost consciousness after sipping some tea, and ended up with serious heart damage.[11]

But the final straw came on October 8, 2006, one day after the murder of Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow. She sent her 16-year-old son on an errand and he failed to return. Eventually she traced him to a police station in the custody of a drunken policeman who had put his name on a dreaded "list" of Chechen sympathizers. According to human rights advocates people on these lists are usually savagely beaten, and may even vanish forever. In an interview to Jim Heintz of the Associated Press, Tlisova explained her desire for asylum:

Do you know what these lists are? These are lists of broken lives. The fact that a drunken policeman can drag an innocent young man into a police station in broad daylight and put him on such a list - I didn't want that to happen to my son.[6]

A few weeks later, she came home one night to find signs that her apartment had been broken into. The next morning, she fell violently ill, and fainted. Medical tests revealed acute kidney failure, but in a few days she had recovered, and her kidneys were functioning normally. Given the history, and the Russian propensity for poisoning, she believes that an intruder put poison in her food.[6]

Asylum and impact on US-Russia relations[edit]

In March 2007, Tlisova went to the United States for a two-year program to study journalism. In early March, the Sunday Times reported that she had asked for asylum, but she denied this.[12] On June 1, the paper "Caucasian Knot" reported that she had been granted asylum, and rumours persisted.

On 2007-06-28, Tlisova and Bagrov, along with the Committee to Protect Journalists, met the Congressional Human Rights Caucus chaired by Rep. Tom Lantos. In a press release on the event, the CPJ announced

This spring, unable to continue their work unobstructed, Bagrov and Tlisova were granted political asylum, and they resettled in the United States.

However, a report a few days later from her workplace, Regnum news agency, quoted her as denying this:

There is only one thing true in what has been reported about me: I did take place in a round-table discussion at the US Congress. I am staying in America to study; after it I intend to continue working in Caucasus.

The report labelled rumours of her asylum as an "information campaign". At some point, the relevant paragraph in the CPJ announcement was also revised, with an Editor's note. The new text says that Tlisova and Bagrov had received refugee status".[4]

In her interviews about moving to the USA, Tlisova appears ambivalent; while welcoming the security it gave her family, she also feels she cannot "remain silent" about the violence in her homeland.[6] At another point, she says: "I see my further work only in Caucasus".[12] This may reveal a dichotomy in her about the asylum situation.

The asylum for the dissident journalists has given rise to speculation that the United States and its allies are playing hardball with Russia, especially when shortly afterwards, four Russian Diplomats were expelled from the United Kingdom, for Russia not agreeing to extradite FSB agent Andrei Lugovoi, who is suspected of poisoning Alexander Litvinenko.[1]

However, the asylum may be more a result of increasing international awareness of the dangerous conditions for journalists in Russia, than political hardball.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bret Stephens (July 17, 2007). "For the Sake of One Man: Getting the facts straight about the old-new Russia.". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  2. ^ "Fatima Tlisova: "I am not acquainted with authors of article in the Sunday Times"". Regnum news agency. 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  3. ^ a b "Lady-journalist from Kabardino-Balkaria moves to the States because of persecutions". The Correspondent magazine; reported in Caucasian Knot. 2007-06-29. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  4. ^ a b "Reporters, CPJ brief Congressional caucus on dangers facing Russian journalists". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2007-07-17.  The paragraph seven of this release was edited to read:
    This spring, unable to continue their work unobstructed, Bagrov and Tlisova resettled in the United States after receiving refugee status.
    where the earlier text had said:
    This spring, unable to continue their work unobstructed, Bagrov and Tlisova were granted political asylum, and they resettled in the United States.
    which differs in that instead of being granted political asylum, they are being given refugee status. According to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, these two terms appear to be the same. See earlier version of the report at IFEX.org.
  5. ^ "Fatima Tlisova denies reports about being granted asylum in the USA". Regnum news agency. 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Jim Heintz (2007-06-28). "Russian Journalist Details Ordeal". Associated Press / The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-07-17. [dead link]The same AP report appears in Pravda, but without a byline.
  7. ^ Charles Gurin (October 22, 2004). "Karachaevo-Cherkessia hit by Criminal Violence". 1 (111). Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  8. ^ Andrei Smirnov (2004-11-10). "Crisis in Karachaevo-Cherkessia turns into mass uprising". Eurasia Daily Monitor, Jamestown Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-09-30. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  9. ^ Jean-Christophe Peuch (2004-11-09). "Russia: Protesters Ransack Government Building In Karachaevo-Cherkessia". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  10. ^ Lyudmila Maratova (2005-01-05). "Local functionaries 'take journalists as servants', says journalist". Caucasian Knot. Retrieved 2007-07-17. .
  11. ^ Larry Martz (2004). "Russia's Press Repression Triggers Pinprick Protest". Overseas Press Club of America. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 2007-07-17. 
  12. ^ a b "Fatima Tlisova: "I am not acquainted with authors of article in the Sunday Times"". Regnum news agency. 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-07-17.