Joe Bergantino, the long-time Boston TV reporter who is now executive director and co-founder of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, was detained in Russia Thursday, a reporter at the center said.
Bergantino and Randy Covington, a University of South Carolina journalism professor, were released by immigration authorities Thursday morning after being detained for over five hours for allegedly illegally teaching a journalism workshop in St. Petersburg, said Beth Daley, a reporter for NECIR.
The two have been in Russia for about a week, and recently finished teaching a workshop in Moscow, Daley said. They had just started teaching another workshop in St. Petersburg when, about an hour in, immigration agents entered the workshop and requested to see their passports and visas.
The two men were then escorted to another room where they were asked several questions, Bergantino wrote to Daley in an e-mail Thursday.
“After we signed the statement, they said we could go back into the workshop. Five minutes later, they came back into the workshop room and asked us to go with them to the immigration service office,” Bergantino wrote.
The two were then brought to an immigration office, and later a courthouse and they were told they were in the country illegally, Daley said. They were there on tourist visas — and had been advised by the US State Department to use that kind of visa — but the Russian authorities claimed they needed a business visa.
“They were there on very good government advice from people who deal with Russia all the time that they were on the right visa,” she said.
She said the two men were given a verbal warning by a judge in downtown St. Petersburg and then freed as of about 10:30 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Bergantino and Covington were told they could not continue the workshop, but were free to leave the country. They hope to leave Friday, Daley said.
“We’re concerned, obviously. In the past, Russia has been fine to allow journalism training to take place. We’re not sure what changed, but given the political situation, obviously things are changing,” Daley said.
Bergantino has been an investigative reporter for nearly 30 years. He has worked for the I-Team at Boston’s Channel 4 WBZ-TV; the Washington Post’s television station in Miami, WPLG-TV; and ABC-TV, where he reported for World News Tonight, Nightline, and Good Morning America. He has won numerous awards, one of which named him the Best Investigative Reporter in New England.
Kiera Blessing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.