Along with Anna Politkovskaya, one of the journalists reporting on Chechnya who is most disliked by the Kremlin is Andrei Babitsky of Radio Liberty. (Four years ago he was seized by mysterious kidnappers, thought widely to be agents of Russia’s security services, and released only after spending nearly two months in captivity.) On September 2, Babitsky was also prevented from traveling to the North Caucasus, though his intended destination was not Beslan but the resort town of Mineralnye Vody. Authorities at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport used three successive different excuses—all wildly implausible—to keep him from boarding his flight.
At first the journalist was told that a dog trained to detect explosives had reacted to something in his baggage. Security personnel proceed to search his baggage, and found nothing. But as soon as that search was ended, Babitsky was approached by two young men who tried to provoke him into a fight. Two policemen immediately appeared and detained both of these provocateurs—along with Babitsky himself. They did not accuse the journalist of sharing blame for the incident, but merely claimed that he was needed as a witness. It later turned out that the two young men were employees of the airport. As if that were not enough, another pretext for delaying Babitsky was created by requiring him to take a test for the presence of alcohol in his system.
Eventually Babitsky was charged with “minor hooliganism,” found guilty and sentenced on September 3 to a five-day jail sentence. After a wave of protest from Radio Liberty and other media he was released on September 4—too late, of course, for him to be able to cover any of last week’s events in the North Caucasus.