Indiana Publisher Barred from Kyrgyzstan on Visit to Evaluate J-School Program

By: KEITH ROBINSON An Indiana newspaper publisher was denied entry to the central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan upon his arrival there for a two-week visit to evaluate a university's journalism program in the former Soviet republic.

Immigration authorities turned back John "Jack" Ronald of The Commercial Review, a small daily newspaper in Portland, about 50 miles north of Richmond, at the airport in Kyrgyzstan's capital city, Bishkek, on Sunday.

Ronald, 60, who often travels to the former Soviet Union to help publishers produce independent newspapers and promote press freedoms, said he was denied entry to the country after security officers questioned him about a 2005 trip he made to Belarus to train journalists.

Ronald is a 1970 graduate of Earlham College and has served on the college's adjunct faculty.

Ronald was visiting Kyrgyzstan on a trip sponsored by the State Department's Fulbright Senior Specialist program. He was to assess the quality of journalism education at American University of Central Asia on behalf of the International Center for Journalists, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based group that is considering whether to embark on a project to improve the journalism program.

He left the U.S. on Friday and arrived in Kyrgyzstan on Sunday. He obtained his visa at the airport but got no further than the passport control booth. He said authorities there searched a database list of names compiled by the Commonwealth of Independent States, a group of some former Soviet republics, and that his name came up.

Ronald said those on the list are considered "an enemy of the state, or you're viewed as a potential threat." There apparently was a reference to his trip to Belarus in the records because he was asked when he went there and for what reason. He told them.

Authorities at the airport were professional and courteous, Ronald said. But they revoked his visa because his name was on the list. He was booked on the next available flight to London, and he returned home Monday.

Although disappointed that he was expelled, he considers it an honor that his name was on the list.

"If Belarus puts me on their list, that's fine," he said in a telephone interview Thursday from his home. "It's a reflection of my fine work there."

During his time in Belarus, Ronald said he was denounced on state-run television as a propagandist for democracy and press freedoms, harassed by immigration authorities, and followed by police.

The State Department at the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek likely would file a complaint over his deportation, Ronald said. An embassy representative referred calls to State Department spokesman Joshua Kamp in Washington. A message seeking comment was left for him.

Ronald also said Freedom House, a Washington, D.C., group that promotes freedom worldwide, and the New York-based Center to Protect Journalists would be notified of his deportation.

Ronald has made 16 trips to nine former Soviet republics since 1998 to train journalists and to promote an independent press.

"Someone asked me how I can find the time to do this," he said. "My answer is I don't play golf."


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here