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A longtime Boston journalist who was conducting a journalism training program in Russia was detained and later released Thursday over visa issues.
Joe Bergantino, the executive director of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR), told WBUR's David Boeri that he was detained in St. Petersburg and told he did not have the proper visa to be in the country.
Bergantino was in Russia with his associate Randy Covington, a University of South Carolina professor, to conduct two workshops on investigative reporting for professional journalists. They had conducted one training workshop earlier this week in Moscow without incident.
Bergantino said six Russian immigration officials interrupted the St. Petersburg training Thursday and took the two to a local immigration office where a judge reprimanded them and told them could not continue with the training program. They were in the country on a "targeted tourism visa," but were told they needed to have a business visa.
The two were also asked to sign a form pleading guilty to violations of administrative law, but did not sign the document, Bergantino said.
According to Bergantino, the training program was sponsored by the State Department, which provided a grant to Covington. Bergantino said he was accompanying Covington on the trip and they did not have a formal letter of invitation from anyone in Russia. He also said they were told by the State Department that their visas were appropriate.
Bergantino has been a national and local investigative reporter for around 30 years, and spent most of his career as a TV reporter at WBZ. He is also a professor at Boston University.
Note: WBUR's operating license is owned by Boston University, where NECIR is based.
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