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Pascal in the UK Guardian!
Mystery of the deported Armenian 'journalist'
Strenuous efforts on Thursday and on Friday to prevent the deportation of Gina/Jina Khachatryan eventually failed. She was flown out of Heathrow to Valletta, where Maltese journalists also did their best to help her. But she was eventually taken to Moscow and then on to Yerevan, Armenia.
I understand that she is now in what is regarded as a place of safety, along with her five-year-old daughter, Elen. A single British friend is in touch with her, and she says that Gina is "extremely grateful" for the support shown by so many people.
It certainly was heartening to witness the sudden explosion of interest after I was informed that Gina - described as "an Armenian journalist" - was about to be returned to a country she fled four years ago after apparently falling foul of the authorities for revealing electoral fraud. However, it would be remiss of me not to mention that there have been questions raised about Gina's story.
For example, an Armenian blogger, uzogh, decided to check details in Gina's statements and couldn't find anyone in Yerevan to corroborate her story. She has claimed to have been detained for 40 days after exposing electoral fraud while working as a media assistant to an opposition candidate, Suren Abrahamian, in the Erebuni constituency in Yerevan, during the May 2003 parliamentary elections. She also said she had previously worked as a TV journalist - for H1, Channel 2 and Mairakakhok TV - and as a newspaper journalist, for the titles Aravot and Yerkerot Alik.
Yet uzogh's investigation drew a blank. He tells me that he was unable to find anyone at the Yerevan press club or the Investigative Journalists of Armenia who knew of her or the incident she described. Furthermore, uzogh - whose real identity I know - asked people in the newsroom of Armenia's public TV company, where Gina claims to have worked, and no-one there remembered her.
None of this is, of course, conclusive proof that Gina has lied, but Armenian journalists - and journalists everywhere - will be unhappy if she has pretended to be a journalist in order to stay illegally in Britain. As one of her closest friends in Britain now concedes, "most of what Gina has told people here appears to be a bending of the truth at best and pure fabrication at worst."
None of this was clear to any of the people who did so much last week to help Gina, including Mike Jempson, the director of MediaWise, and Toby Young, who generously agreed to pay her legal fees. Similarly, Maltese journalists made a huge effort to help Gina in the belief that she was a journalist facing recriminations if returned to Armenia.
The truth is that that was so little time to act after hearing about Gina's detention that none of us had time to check her story. On the other hand, we still don't know the truth. The whole thing remains a mystery and shouldn't blind us to the problems facing all the people who seek exile in Britain.
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