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BBC Condemns 'Assault On Media Freedom' After Russia Expels Moscow Correspondent

BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford (left) described the news as "devastating."
BBC journalist Sarah Rainsford (left) described the news as "devastating."

Russia has refused to renew a visa for a BBC journalist in Moscow, effectively expelling her from the country.

The BBC on August 13 called the move against Sarah Rainsford "a direct assault on media freedom," while the British government urged Moscow "to reconsider this retrograde step against an award-winning BBC journalist which can only do further damage to media freedom in Russia."

The move comes as the authorities crack down on the opposition and independent media before parliamentary elections in September.

Russian state news channel Rossia-24 said authorities had rejected extending Rainsford's accreditation to work as a foreign journalist beyond the end of this month when her visa expires, meaning she'll have to leave the country.

The decision was a response to London's treatment of Russian journalists from state-backed Russian broadcaster RT and news outlet Sputnik, both of which have had issues getting accreditation to cover international events, Rossia-24 said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow had warned London about the issue many times and that it will take "corresponding measures" in response to its treatment of Russian journalists.

"We have made regular statements, urging the British to end persecution of Russian journalists," she said. She added that BBC representatives had been at the ministry in recent days and that everything had been explained to them in detail.

The U.K. Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office rejected Moscow's claim of discriminatory action against Russian journalists based in Britain and insisted that "Russian journalists continue to work freely in the U.K., provided they act within the law and the regulatory framework."

Rainsford described the news as "devastating."

"Being expelled from Russia, a country I've lived in for almost 1/3 of my life -- and reported for years -- is devastating," she wrote on Twitter.

"The expulsion of Sarah Rainsford is a direct assault on media freedom, which we condemn unreservedly," BBC Director-General Tim Davie said in a statement. "Sarah is an exceptional and fearless journalist. She is a fluent Russian speaker who provides independent and in-depth reporting of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her journalism informs the BBC's audiences of hundreds of millions of people around the world."

Rainsford is part of a team that provides the British public service broadcaster's English-language outlets with content about Russia and the former Soviet Union. The BBC also operates a Russian-language service.

With reporting by AFP, BBC, and Reuters
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