Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 49

Despite being released from prison in Makhachkala, Dagestan, Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky’s travails continue. Babitsky, who was reporting from Chechnya before being detained by Russian forces there in mid-January, and then “exchanged” to Chechens of unknown affiliation, said at a news conference at Moscow’s PEN Center earlier this week that he had been denied permission to leave Russia to attend a session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly set for April 3-7 in Strasbourg, France. The session will be devoted to discussion of allegations that federal forces in Chechnya have committed widespread human rights abuses. Babitsky, who signed an agreement not to leave Moscow after his release from prison last week, said his request to travel to Strasbourg had been turned down on the basis that he would “not return to Russia” (Russian agencies, March 7; Moscow Times, March 9).

Babitsky remains under investigation for carrying a fake Azeri passport, which police found on him when he was detained in Makhachkala. He claims that the passport was forced on him by the Chechens to whom he was “exchanged” (putatively for Russian POWs) and who held him from early February until last week. Babitsky is apparently still being investigated for allegedly participating in “illegal armed formations” (meaning the Chechen rebels). Earlier this week Justice Minister Yuri Chaika openly charged that Babitsky had been working for the rebels. Until his arrest in Chechnya in mid-January, the correspondent had been covering the Chechen war from the rebel side. Babitsky said at his news conference that he plans to meet with a Parliamentary Assembly delegation to arrive in Moscow today to show them video footage he took in Chechnya concerning the “fate of the civilian population in Chechnya and about the true [number of] casualties among federal forces.” Some of that footage was shown on NTV television at the beginning of the year, which undoubtedly angered Russian authorities.

Babitsky said that he plans to sue Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev, who, according to the correspondent, “took on full responsibility for my so-called exchange for Russian servicemen.” Babitsky said that the February 3 exchange amounted to being “kidnapped and illegally held by unidentified people.” He also claimed that the authorities are gathering kompromat (compromising materials) on him, and hinted that these materials might involve an incident in 1991, when he tried to enter the wrong apartment while drunk, mistaking it for his own, and was arrested and sentenced to jail time. Babitsky said those charges were subsequently dropped (Russian agencies, March 7).