New York, Feb. 9, 2000— Speculation surrounding the disappearance of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Andrei Babitsky continued Wednesday, despite a new videotape suggesting that the journalist is alive and anxious to return home.
RFE/RL purchased the videotape on Tuesday night from an unidentified man in Moscow, and aired it on Russian television today. It shows Babitsky sitting in front of a white wall, claiming that “the only problem is time, as things have turned out in such a way that unfortunately I can’t return home right now.” According to RFE/RL, it is impossible to verify the nationality of Babitsky’s captors or whether the videotape recording was in fact made on February 6, as Babitsky says on camera.
Babitsky’s coverage of the war in Chechnya angered Russian authorities, who detained him on January 15. The Russians then claimed to have turned him over to Chechen rebels on February 3 in exchange for three Russian prisoners of war. An earlier videotape of that exchange has since sparked concerns over Babitsky’s safety and claims that Russian authorities may have fabricated the swap.
Despite the release of the new footage, Chechen leaders continue to claim that they have no knowledge of Babitsky’s whereabouts and did not take part in any negotiations regarding his transfer.
“Russian authorities have shown a blatant disregard for Babitsky’s safety and should be doing everything in their power to ensure his release, regardless of who his captors may be,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper.
For more ongoing coverage and information on Babitsky’s status, visit RFE/RL’s web site at http://www.rferl.org.