TBILISI, Georgia – Test results indicate Russian authorities drugged a Georgian journalist who was detained covering the school standoff in southern Russia, a medical expert said, raising new concern about allegations the government tried to hinder coverage of the crisis.
Nana Lezhava (search) and another journalist from Georgia's independent Rustavi-2 television were detained Friday in Beslan (search), the site of the school siege. They were accused of violating visa rules when they entered Russia from neighboring Georgia and prevented from covering the aftermath of the tragedy.
The head of the oversight board at a Georgian drug research institute, Gela Lezhava, told a news conference Thursday that urine samples taken from Lezhava showed traces of tranquilizers. He said he suspects the journalist was drugged by Russian authorities.
The tests were conducted at the request of Rustavi-2 (search), which aired an interview with the journalists Wednesday in which she said that after drinking coffee in a holding cell, she slept for 24 hours and woke up feeling weak. Both journalists were later released and returned to neighboring Georgia.
International watchdogs said this week that the detention of several journalists traveling to and from the site of the deadly school siege raised new concerns about press freedom in Russia. More than 320 people died in the siege, many of them children, and the government has been criticized for its handling of the crisis.
There are also accusations that a prominent Russian journalists and critic of the government's military campaign in Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya (search), was victim of a deliberate case of food poisoning as she tried to travel to Beslan.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (search) said Tuesday it was alarmed at reports Politkovskaya, who fell seriously ill after drinking tea on a flight from Moscow to southern Russia, may have been deliberately poisoned. Soria Blatmann, of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (search), called for an investigation.
Relations between Russia and Georgia are tense. The school attack in Russia's North Ossetia (search) region comes on the heels of fighting between Georgian forces and separatists across the border in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia (search) region, whose leaders are supported by Russia.