February 1, 2000
His Excellency Vladimir Putin
Acting President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly alarmed by the recent arrest and detention of Andrei Babitsky, a 10-year veteran reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Russia.
Babitsky had been covering the conflict in Chechnya from the capital city of Grozny until his disappearance on January 15. Despite initial claims denying any knowledge of his whereabouts, a spokesman for your government acknowledged on January 28 that Babitsky was being held in Chechnya by Russian authorities because he did not have proper accreditation to report from the war zone. At the same time, your government has yet to confirm or deny charges published by the Russian news agency Interfax that Babitsky was arrested for "participating in an armed group."
CPJ believes it is no coincidence that Babitsky's arrest follows his January 13 report of heavy civilian casualties resulting from increased Russian bombings in Grozny. Over the past month Babitsky has been the target of increasing harassment by Russian authorities reportedly angered by his critical coverage of the conflict. On January 8, members of the Federal Security Service (FSB) raided Babitsky's apartment and confiscated film alleged to contain pictures of dead Russian soldiers in Chechnya. On December 27, the Russian Information Center accused Babitsky of "conspiring with Chechen rebels" after he broadcast a December 26 report that criticized your government's position in Chechnya.
Your government has also retaliated against the independent NTV Russian television network for its reports challenging official figures of Russian military casualties. On January 23, the Russian military told NTV it was excluding its reporters and crews from media pools traveling with military escorts to Russian positions in the field.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests the arrest and detention of Andrei Babitsky for practicing his profession. Your government repeatedly denies accreditation to journalists and then uses their lack of official approval as a pretext to detain them. Such a tactic constitutes a transparent attempt to stifle media coverage of Chechnya.
The case against Babitsky clearly violates his right "to seek and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers," as expressed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While we are encouraged by your decision to send a Russian prosecutor to meet with Babitsky and investigate this case, we urge you to immediately drop all charges against him and allow all journalists the freedom to report effectively on the Chechen conflict.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper