Detained journalist becomes pawn in prisoner exchange

New York, February 3, 2000 — Radio Free Europe /Radio Liberty (REF/RL) reported today that Andrei Babitsky, the Russian journalist detained by Russian military authorities in Chechnya since January 15, has been exchanged for three Russian prisoners of war held by Chechen rebels. The announcement was made by Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky. This action violates repeated earlier assurances that Babitsky would be transported to Moscow and released on his own recognizance. The Chechen rebels’ motives for agreeing to such an exchange were not immediately apparent.

Babitsky is a veteran correspondent for RFE/RL whose objective reporting on the conflict in Chechnya has often angered Russian authorities and subjected him to official harassment. Thomas A. Dine, president of RFE/RL, called for Babitsy’s release and condemned Moscow for seeking to turn Babitsky into “a pawn in its war on its own citizens.”