Anna Politkovskaya, a correspondent for the biweekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was detained yesterday at a military checkpoint in Chechnya’s Vedeno region by federal forces. Ivan Babichev, the Russian military commander in Chechnya, said that the basis for the detention was that she did not have appropriate documents and that the car in which she was traveling had license plates from a region outside Chechnya. Babichev said that the journalist would be released soon. Sources in the office of Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Chechnya, said that Politkovskaya had accreditation for working as a journalist in Chechnya, but had not, as required, registered in any of the official press centers upon her arrival in the republic. Konstantin Kukharenko, chief press officer for the federal forces in Chechnya, reported that Politkovskaya is currently being held on the territory of an airborne unit in the village of Katuni, and that as soon as the weather improves, she will be sent to the military base at Khankala, near Djohar [Grozny], the Chechen capital, and then expelled from Chechnya. Politkovskaya had reportedly undertaken a hunger strike in protest of her detention (Russian agencies, February 21).
Politkovskaya has been working as a reporter in Chechnya since the start of the latest Russian military campaign there. Her material is almost always sharply critical of the actions of the federal forces in the republic. She has not concealed the fact that she believes the Russian forces should be withdrawn from Chechnya and negotiations undertaken with the rebels. It is on the basis of her views that a number of human rights activists feared that Politkovskaya would share the fate of Radio Liberty’s Andre Babitsky who was detained by federal forces in Chechnya in early 2000 and then under unclear circumstances turned over to a shadowy group of armed Chechens ostensibly in exchange for Russian POWs being held by the rebels. After his release, Babitsky charged that his captors were in fact working for the Federal Security Service.
The Babitsky case is undoubtedly the reason why Politkovskaya’s detention received so much attention from the Russian media yesterday. In addition, the Russian PEN-Center denounced her detention, calling it “an outrageous violation of a journalist’s right to fulfill a professional obligation, contrary to the Russian Federation constitution and the law on mass media” (Russian agencies, February 21).
There is little doubt, however, that Politkovskaya will be released quickly. The Russian authorities, having got themselves into an awkward spot with Babitsky, are unlikely to want to repeat that mistake. On the other hand, once Politkovskaya is expelled from Chechnya, she will likely lose her accreditation to work in Chechnya, on the pretext that she violated the regulations governing the work of journalists in war zones.
AUTHORITIES TIGHTEN SECURITY IN ADVANCE OF FEBRUARY 23 ANNIVERSARY.