Associated Press reporter detained and abused by Russian troops

New York, September 11, 2000 — Ruslan Musayev, a local reporter, cameraman, and photographer for The Associated Press (AP), was captured by Russian military forces in Chechnya on September 5, beaten, and held in detention overnight. He was released the following morning after paying US$600 to his guards, AP reported. This is the second recent incident in which the Russian military harassed a journalist in Chechnya.

Musayev had traveled to Grozny from southern Chechnya, where he resides, to cover anticipated military operations in the city. That afternoon, Russian troops stopped him in the local marketplace and asked for his identification papers.

At the time of his arrest, Musayev did not have his press credentials with him. Since other documents showed that he was not a resident of Grozny, he was arrested, handcuffed, blindfolded, and transported–along with seven other people–to Russian military headquarters in Khankala. (Russian forces in Chechnya often use Russia’s strict residency laws to detain people, usually ethnic Chechen men of fighting age.)

Russian military authorities confiscated his passport, money, and other valuables. When the prisoners arrived at the Russian military base, Musayev was beaten, suffering multiple bruises and damage to his lower ribs. He was then detained overnight, together with four other Chechen men, in a covered pit near the military airfield in Khankala.

The next morning he was interrogated by a Russian officer, who confiscated his gold watch and US$600 in cash. Russian soldiers then drove Musayev to the Chechen-Ingushetian border, where he was released. Later, Russian officials in both Chechnya and Moscow denied that the arrest ever occurred.

“We object to Russian officials restricting the access of journalists seeking to cover developments in Chechnya, which is a topic of vital public interest. This arbitrary detention and physical abuse of an ethnic Chechen journalist by Russian military forces is particularly outrageous,” said Alex Lupis, CPJ’s Europe program coordinator. “We call on Russian authorities to ensure that their forces refrain from physically abusing journalists and obstructing their access to Chechnya.”

In a separate incident on August 30, General Vadim Timchenko, commander of Russian military forces in Chechnya, announced that reporter Vadim Chelikov and cameraman Vladimir Agafonov of the Moscow-based television network ORT would be deported from Chechnya and stripped of their authorization to work in the area.

The deportation order came in response to the ORT crew’s report, aired earlier that day, about a fire at the Russian military base in Khankala. ORT claimed that the fire had been caused inadvertently by Russian forces. While other journalists also reported the fire, Gen. Timchenko claimed that ORT’s video footage revealed the secret location of the Russian military base.

This case may indicate a new trend in the Russian military’s treatment of journalists in Chechnya. In the past, the military has tended to deny foreign correspondents access to Chechnya or detain local Chechen journalists, rather than expelling visiting Russian journalists from the strife-torn region.