Foreign Ministry summons U.S. diplomat after ABC report

New York, July 29, 2005—The Russian Foreign Ministry today issued a formal complaint to a U.S. diplomat, a day after the ABC News program “Nightline” aired an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, according to international news reports. Already this year, Russian authorities have pressured both Britain and Sweden after independent media in those countries aired interviews with the rebel leader.

The ministry summoned the U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires in Moscow, Daniel Russell, to express Russia’s “strong indignation” about last night’s broadcast on the U.S. network. The report gave “a boost to terrorist activities,” complained Anatoly Safonov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative for the war on terrorism, according to the Russian news agency, Interfax.

“Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel addressed the Russian government’s concerns on last night’s broadcast, telling viewers that “broadcasting an interview with someone does not imply any sort of approval of that person or his actions.” The interview was conducted by Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, who has been persecuted by Russian authorities over his reporting on the war in Chechnya.

Basayev has taken responsibility for many violent actions, including the deadly September 2004 attack on a school in Beslan that claimed the lives of 330 hostages. Russian authorities have offered a $10 million reward for his capture.

On March 24, the Russian embassy in Stockholm criticized the independent Swedish news agency TT for broadcasting a similar interview with Basayev. A month earlier, on February 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry requested that British authorities prevent the independent television station Channel 4 from broadcasting an interview with Basayev. The British Foreign Office said it could not interfere with the station’s editorial policies.

“The Russian protest is outrageous,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “It reflects the Kremlin’s lack of understanding that free speech means tolerating the broadcast of views it finds uncomfortable or even reprehensible. It also exposes the Kremlin’s failure to comprehend that—in sharp contrast with Russia—U.S. television operates independently of government.”