Authorities urged to step up search for journalist

New York, January 27, 2000 —The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to safeguarding press freedom around the world, is gravely concerned with the recent disappearance of Russian journalist and 10-year veteran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent, Andrei Babitsky.

Babitsky, 36, well known for his critical reporting on Moscow’s military campaign in Chechnya both in 1994-96 and during recent months of the conflict’s escalation, was last heard from on January 15, when he phoned his wife in Moscow from the Chechen capital of Grozny.

On Wednesday, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, recently appointed Russian press spokesman on the Chechen conflict, promised to expand the government’s own search efforts. That appeared to be a welcome change from earlier in the week, when Yastrzhembsky had said that Babitsky was not accredited by the Russian government, and his security could “not be guaranteed.” Russian authorities have continued to deny accreditation to journalists as a means of limiting coverage from Chechnya.

The journalist’s wife, Lyudmila Babitsky, is said to be concerned that the Russian military may be involved in the journalist’s disappearance. The military command post and headquarters for Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, has denied charges that the FSB was involved in detaining Babitsky or knows anything about his whereabouts.

Over the past month Babitsky has been the target of increased harassment by Russian authorities, who are believed to be incensed over his coverage of the recent build-up in Russian attacks against the breakaway republic. On December 27, the Russian Information Center accused Babitsky of conspiring with Chechen rebels in producing a December 26 broadcast critical of the Russian government’s position in Chechnya. On January 8, FSB officers detained Ludmila Babitsky in Moscow and seized a roll of her husband’s film that highlighted casualties of the war.

CPJ joins RFE/RL in requesting the Russian authorities to do all that is within their power to locate Babitsky, ensure his safe return, and halt efforts to limit all journalists’ ability to report effectively on the Chechen conflict.

For more information on media coverage of Chechnya, contact Chrystyna Lapychak at (212) 465-9344, x101 or by e-mail at [email protected].