New England Center for Investigative Reporting Executive Director Joe Bergantino arrived back in the U.S. on October 18 after being detained for allegedly illegally conducting a journalism workshop in St. Petersburg.
Bergantino and University of South Carolina journalism professor Randy Covington were detained over five hours by immigration authorities after beginning a two-day training with 14 Russian journalists, part of a series of workshops taking place in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
The two were taken to immigration offices and later a district court where a judge ruled they were guilty of breaking Russian administrative law by illegally conducting an educational workshop with a "targeted tourist visa." The visas they held were the type recommended by the US State Department to do this work.
Representatives from the US Consulate accompanied them to the courthouse. Bergantino said that he and Covington were told they could not continue teaching but were free to leave the country. Bergantino was in Russia as part of a US State Department grant given to the University of South Carolina to train Russian media. Covington was in Russia several months ago under a different component of the same grant, and with the same type of visa, and encountered no problems, said Charles Bierbauer, dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.
Covington has been in Russia several times and "this is the first time I can recall that we've had any difficulty," said Bierbauer. He said despite strained relations between Russia and the U.S., he had been pleased the workshops had been allowed to go forward until this incident.