March 1, 2000
His Excellency Vladimir Putin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 7-095-206-5173; 7-095-206-6277
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the physical and psychological abuse that veteran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Andrei Babitsky has reported suffering at the hands of Russian forces during his detention at Chrernokozovo, a Russian detention camp near Grozny. We are also concerned that despite his release on February 29, after several weeks of captivity, Babitsky still faces criminal charges for allegedly traveling on a forged passport.
Babitsky’s ordeal began January 16, when Russian security forces first detained him.
At a press conference held in Moscow yesterday, Babitsky described repeated beatings and psychological torture inflicted upon him by Russian troops during his detention. During his first day of captivity, Babitsky was reportedly forced to crawl on his knees while guards beat him with rubber clubs. Guards also threw tear gas canisters into his cell. Babitsky has since entered a Moscow hospital for extensive physical examinations.
Babitsky was apparently detained by Russian forces because of his often-critical reporting on your government’s military campaign in the region. On February 2, Russian authorities turned Babitsky over to a party of armed Chechens, allegedly in exchange for three Russian prisoners of war.
It is believed that Babitsky’s new captors were pro-Russian Chechen militia. They held him until February 25, when the journalist was driven to Makhachkala, the capital of neighboring Dagestan, and released. That same day, Russian forces in Makhachkala arrested Babitsky for carrying a forged Azerbaijani passport. (Babitsky claims that his Chechen captors confiscated his own documents and then forced him to accept the false passport.)
Babitsky was released in Moscow on February 29, after Your Excellency publicly suggested that there were no grounds to keep him in detention, and questioned the Interior Ministry’s handling of the case. While CPJ is heartened by Your Excellency’s efforts to ensure Babitsky’s release, we condemn your order that he be forced to remain in Moscow and face trumped-up charges. Russian authorities say Babitsky could still be prosecuted for carrying a forged passport, and for colluding with Chechen rebels while covering the Chechen conflict. Babitsky rejects both these charges.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists devoted to defending our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests the arrest, detention and continued intimidation of Andrei Babitsky. We urge you to drop all charges against Babitsky, and to release all available information regarding the identity of his masked captors. We also ask that you do everything in your power to ensure that journalists are allowed to report freely on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper