The comments of the authorities concerning what happened to Andrei Babitsky have strengthened suspicions that his supposed exchange for Russian POWs was fake, and that he is in fact still in the Russian special services’ custody, was turned over to professional Chechen kidnappers or is no longer alive. On February 4, the human rights group Amnesty International released a statement saying that it feared Babitsky’s life was “in grave danger.” Fears increased over the weekend, when Radio Liberty cited reports from eyewitnesses in Chechnya that Babitsky was detained in mid-January by fighters from Bislan Gantemirov’s pro-Moscow Chechen militia and then handed over to the Federal Security Service, who put him in a “filtration point.” Some eyewitness said that the journalist was severely beaten upon his arrest and while in detention (Radio Liberty, February 6). On February 5, Yelena Bonner, the veteran human rights activist and widow of Andrei Sakharov, released an appeal asking the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to convene a special session to examine the case of Babitsky, whom, she wrote, was “handed over in the absence of independent witnesses by representatives of the state into the hands of those whom this state considers to be terrorists and bandits” (Radio Liberty, February 5-7). On February 6, John Podesta, U.S. President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, said that the United States was “very concerned” about Babitsky’s fate. Yabloko, the only political party which has formally condemned the exchange, has called on Acting President Vladimir Putin to investigate the case personally (Radio Liberty, February 6). Yesterday, the Union of Russian Journalists demanded that the authorities explain the legal basis for Babitsky’s being turned over to Chechen rebels (Russian agencies, February 7). Also yesterday, the International Federation of Journalists called on the Russian government to “come clean” on Babitsky’s fate. Putin’s silence on the controversy continues.
WHY DID BABITSKY DISAPPEAR?