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RFE/RL Condemns Latest Arrest of Correspondent Babitsky

(Prague, Czech Republic — September 3, 2004) Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Correspondent Andrei Babitsky was sentenced today on trumped-up charges by Russian authorities, who yesterday detained Babitsky at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport and prevented him from traveling to the Caucasus to cover the hostage crisis in Beslan, North Ossetia.

RFE/RL President Tom Dine said: “I am deeply disturbed by the continuing harassment and persecution of Andrei Babitsky.” Dine continued: “Andrei is one of RFE/RL’s most dedicated and courageous journalists. I am confident that the charges against him are completely unfounded and baseless. This action of the Russian authorities is dismayingly reminiscent of events four years ago, when Babitsky disappeared for nearly two months in Russia and was released from detention only after a wave of international protests.”

Babitsky, a Russian citizen, was sentenced by a Moscow magistrate today to five days in a temporary detention center on the outskirts of Moscow. He was found guilty of “minor hooliganism” (melko guliganism), akin to “disorderly conduct.” The guilty verdict rested mainly on testimony by the two arresting police officers — although their account differed from those of other witnesses, including of the other two men involved in the incident. Babitsky was the only person sentenced in relation to the incident; the others involved were allowed to go free. Babitsky’s lawyer says the verdict will be appealed.

Dine expressed concern for Babitsky’s safety while in detention, as he is to be held in isolation at the temporary detention center, and not in a regular jail. He added that, “Andrei has the full support of colleagues and friends in Prague. We are waiting to welcome him back to freedom, where people can exercise their right to travel.”

Babitsky was detained yesterday (September 2) at Vnukovo Airport before boarding a flight from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Mineralnye Vody, from where he planned to continue on to Beslan. Police first accused him of carrying explosives in his bag, but found none. Next, he was approached by two young men who attempted to provoke a fight. Police arrested all three and arraigned them before a local magistrate’s office.

Andrei Babitsky, an award-winning correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service, was abducted in January 2000 and held incommunicado by Russian authorities objecting to his reporting on the war in Chechnya. Babitsky won international acclaim for journalistic excellence in balanced and objective reporting. After he was released because of an international outcry, Babitsky and his family moved to Prague where he has continued to work as a broadcaster on RFE/RL’s Russian Service.