Second high-profile expulsion or foreign correspondent within a few months
IPI Contributor Anne ter Rele
The IPI global network for independent journalism today condemned Russia’s decision to expel Tom Vennink, the Moscow correspondent for Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. IPI calls on the Interior Ministry to immediately reinstate Vennink’s work visa and to allow him to report freely.
Media www.rajawalisiber.com – On November 1, Vennink received a letter informing him about the denial of the extension of his work visa and the revocation of his residence permit. He had three days to leave the country or face criminal sanctions, it stated. Vennink arrived back in the Netherlands yesterday and is not allowed to return to Russia until 2025.
Vennink was formally denied the visa for two minor “administrative violations”: a fine in 2019 for failing to register his home address with the authorities and another in 2020 for visiting an autonomous province without seeking local permission. However, the surprise expulsion also comes amidst increasingly bitter relations between Moscow and Amsterdam.
“Russia’s decision to expel Tom Vennink is wholly disproportionate and yet another sign of the growing pressure on foreign journalists working in the country”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Russian authorities should immediately reverse this decision and allow Vennink to do his job freely.
“We are extremely concerned about the chilling effect that this move, which follows the expulsion of BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford earlier this year, will have on the work of Russia-based correspondents. Journalists should not suffer because of the political relations between their home and host countries.”
The Dutch Foreign Ministry and the chief editors of De Volkskrant have appealed to the decision, without success. “It is not acceptable for the Netherlands when a journalist has to leave a country against his will. Freedom of press is a great asset”, said the Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Knapen said.
Pawn in a political game
Relations between Russia and the Netherlands have fallen to a major low, with the Dutch government blaming Moscow for the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine that left nearly 200 Dutch citizens dead. A recent court case over a collection of borrowed golden treasures in an Amsterdam-based museum, which will be given back to Ukraine instead of Russia, has worsened the situation further.
Although Vennink considers the chill in Dutch-Russian relations as a potential reason for his expulsion, he told IPI in an interview that he was unsure what exactly caused Moscow to expel him now. “I don’t understand why they would not want me to cover Russia. I also don’t see why they would target my newspaper, De Volkskrant. There are still many questions left”, he said.
Vennink has been a Russia correspondent for De Volkskrant since 2015. He had no trouble renewing his press credentials in previous years, including after minor administrative offences for which he was fined. But after a recent request, Vennink was only granted a seven-week renewal instead of a whole year. “That already worried me a bit that something was off”, he said.
Those same administrative offences were now used as a reason to deny his visa. “These offences happened years ago and they are minor”, he said. “For me, that is a reason to believe there are more reasons behind my expulsion.”
Vennink is not the first Western European correspondent expelled from Russia recently. Two months ago, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent Sarah Rainsford was forced to leave the country after she was labelled a “safety threat” for Russia.
“Although I am not labelled like this, I see many similarities between our expulsions”, Vennink told IPI. “We are both correspondents from Western European media having to leave the country for questionable reasons.”
The two events add to the pressure on foreign correspondents and restrict their ability to report freely on Russia, Vennink added. “This has a very chilling effect on other Russia correspondents. I see they are worried because of my expulsion. And I understand that, I would feel the same way.”
Critical reporting has also become increasingly risky for Russian journalists as well, Vennink noted. “Recently, many independent Russian journalists have been labelled as so-called foreign agents after critical reporting, basically meaning they are state enemies, which seriously undermines their job. But until my expulsion, as a foreign correspondent I experienced relative freedom in my work. I did not notice any difference when reaching out to government officials. The decision therefore truly comes as a surprise.”
Vennink cannot officially return until January 2025. “Unfortunately I fear this decision will not change”, he said. “The Dutch government has requested Moscow to reverse the decision, as did De Volkskrant, but the Russian authorities have not given in.”