Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 187

On October 6, the trial of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky ended in Makhachkala, Dagestan. Babitsky was found guilty of holding a fake passport and was fined the equivalent of US$300. The correspondent, however, was then cleared of the punishment under an amnesty. Babitsky’s lawyers had argued that their defendant, who was arrested earlier this year with a forged Azerbaijani passport, was found with the fake passport due to extenuating circumstances. Russian forces detained Babitsky in Chechnya in January of this year, then “exchanged” him to unknown armed Chechens who subsequently let the correspondent go near Dagestan’s border with Azerbaijan after giving him a fake Azerbaijani passport. Babitsky was then arrested by Dagestani police for carrying a false passport and jailed briefly, after which he was freed and sent back to Moscow. Although he was not jailed again, neither was he allowed to travel abroad prior to his trial. Babitsky and his lawyers argued that he was forced to take the forged passport by his captors, whom he believed to be pro-Moscow Chechen gunmen.

Following the verdict, Babitsky said that he would appeal his conviction and would, if necessary, take it to the European human rights court in Strasbourg. Babitsky’s lawyers, who said that the court was under strong pressure from the authorities to convict the correspondent, say that they plan to sue the Russian authorities for wrongful imprisonment. Despite his disagreement with the verdict, Babitsky, in an interview with Radio Liberty a day after his conviction, praised the judge for having presided over what he called an “absolutely open” process which had been open to the media from the start and in which all of solicitations of the defense lawyers were satisfied (Reuters, October 6; Radio Liberty, October 7).