Babitsky trial starts Monday

Read more about press freedom conditions in Russia

Terry Anderson Interviews Andrei Babitsky (July 17, 2000)

Putin’s Media War (March 27, 2000)

Babitsky’s “Crime” and Punishment (February 28, 2000)

New York, September 29, 2000 — The trial of the Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, which has attracted the attention of the international press freedom community, will begin on Monday, October 2 at 10 a.m. in Makhachkala, capital of the Russian republic of Dagestan. Babitsky, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent whose reporting on the military conflict in Chechnya angered Russian authorities and led to his detention last January, is being charged with carrying false documents. If convicted, he faces a maximum fine of two months salary or two years of community service.

“This trial is the latest tactic in a concerted Russian government effort to punish Babitsky for his critical coverage of Chechnya,” said Joel Simon, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “This strategy is also intended to discourage other journalists from filing independent reports on the Russian war effort. CPJ calls on the government to drop the charges against Babitsky. We will be monitoring this trial carefully.”

At a press conference earlier this week, Babitsky, who has pleaded not guilty, announced that he expected a guilty verdict because Russian courts were not sufficiently independent to withstand government pressure.

On or around January 16, 2000, Russian military authorities secretly detained Babitsky in a Russian-controlled area of Chechnya. His arrest followed several weeks of harassment in retaliation for his coverage of Russian military operations in the breakaway republic.

Babitsky’s fate remained mysterious until late January, as the authorities did not immediately announce that he was in military custody. He was formally arrested on January 27, on the charge of “participating in an armed formation” (this charge was later dropped). On February 3, Russian military authorities abruptly handed Babitsky over to purported Chechen rebels, whom Babitsky later claimed were loyal to Moscow.

On February 25, Babitsky re-surfaced in Makhachkala, capital of neighboring Dagestan. Russian authorities promptly arrested him on the charge of possessing a false Azeri passport, which Babitsky claimed had been forced on him by his Chechen captors after they took away his own documents. Three days later he was flown to Moscow and forbidden from leaving the city before his trial.