Christo Grozev: Bellingcat journalist excluded from BAFTAs over security fears

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A leading investigative journalist with a track record of uncovering stories that make uncomfortable reading for the Kremlin has been told he can’t attend this year’s British Academy (BAFTA) film awards, on the advice of British police.

Christo Grozev is the lead Russia investigator for the investigative group Bellingcat focusing on “security threats, extraterritorial clandestine operations, and the weaponization of information,” according to the organization’s website.

He had been due to attend this year’s awards ceremony in his capacity as a collaborator on the BAFTA-nominated CNN documentary “Navalny.”

The CNN Films and HBO co-production follows the work of Grozev, CNN journalists and Alexey Navalny’s team in revealing the plot to target the Russian opposition politician in 2020.

Grozev and the team’s reporting uncovered the elite unit of Russian specialists who had been tailing Navalny on President Vladimir Putin’s orders for three years – including when he was poisoned and his body ravaged by the nerve agent Novichok in the Siberian city of Tomsk in August 2020.

The Bulgarian journalist has been on Russia’s “most wanted list” since December 2022.

Grozev said on Friday he was taken aback by the decision from BAFTA to exclude him and his family from the event on February 19. “I was surprised to discover that my whole family and I have all been banned by British police from attending this weekend’s BAFTA awards where the documentary #Navalny is nominated. The reason stated: we “represent a public security risk,” Grozev wrote on Twitter.

“I understand the need to keep the public safe (although I don’t understand how my son or teenage daughter constitute risk to the public). But moments like this show the growing dangers to independent journalists around the world,” Grozev said.

Grozev added that “these dangers don’t stem just from murderous dictators, but also from having journalists’ voices hushed – instead of amplified – by the civilized world they are trying to serve.”

CNN has asked London’s Metropolitan Police and the UK Home Office for a response.

Grozev (second left) pictured at the New York premiere of

In a statement to CNN, BAFTA confirmed that Grozev would not be attending this year’s awards ceremony, citing security concerns. “The safety of all our guests and staff at the ceremony is always our highest priority and we have robust and appropriate security arrangements in place every year,” BAFTA said.

According to Russia’s monitoring group OVD-Info, a criminal case on disseminating “fake news” about the Russian army has been opened against Grozev.

“I have no idea on what grounds the Kremlin has put me on its ‘wanted list,’ thus I cannot provide any comments at this time,” Grozev said in a Twitter post on Monday. “In a way it doesn’t matter – for years they’ve made it clear they are scared of our work and would stop at nothing to make it go away.”

Alexey Navalny, pictured at a rally on February 29, 2020.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Grozev has been using open-source digital tools to document allegations of war crimes and other atrocities.

After the unmasking of the unit by CNN and Bellingcat in December 2020, a Russian agent sent to trail Navalny was duped into revealing how the opposition leader was poisoned, with Novichok planted in his underpants.

At the time, Putin essentially confirmed that FSB agents tailed Navalny but said if Russia had wanted him dead, “they would’ve probably finished it.”

After a five-month stay in Germany recovering from the Novichok poisoning, Navalny returned to Moscow in 2021, where he was immediately arrested for violating probation terms imposed from a 2014 case. In March 2022, Navalny was sentenced to nine years in prison on fraud charges he said were politically motivated.

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