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RFE/RL’s Babitsky Arrested At Moscow Airport Trying To Reach Site Of North Ossetia Hostage Standoff

(Prague, Czech Republic–September 2, 2004) RFE/RL Russian Service Correspondent Andrei Babitsky was harassed and detained today by police at Vnukovo Airport in Moscow, where he was attempting to fly to southern Russia to cover the ongoing hostage standoff at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. Babitsky, who in January 2000 was abducted by Russian security officials and held incommunicado for 40 days because of his coverage of the war in Chechnya, has been released, but is due before a local magistrate tomorrow morning (September 3).

Babitsky was first detained at Vnukovo Airport while trying to board a flight from Moscow to the southern Russian city of Mineralnye Vody, from where he planned to continue on to Beslan. Police at the airport accused Babitsky of carrying explosives in his bag. After police searched the bag and found no explosives, Babitsky was released and continued on to await his flight.

While waiting to board the flight, Babitsky was approached by two young men who attempted to provoke a fight with him. Police arrested all three men, took them to the airport police station and then to a medical clinic, where Babitsky was subjected to blood tests on suspicion that he was drunk. Babitsky was eventually joined at the airport police station by his lawyer, who accompanied Babitsky to a local magistrate’s office, where he was released pending resolution of his case.

Babitsky is not the only journalist to be harassed while attempting to travel to North Ossetia this week. Babitsky was to be accompanied on his flight to Mineralnye Vody by AFP correspondent Yana Dlugy, who was also stopped on suspicion of carrying explosives and as a result missed the flight. In addition, well-known Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya became seriously ill yesterday during a flight from Moscow to Rostov na Donu, from where she intended to go on to Beslan for her newspaper, “Novaya Gazeta.” It is suspected that Politkovskaya, who is currently hospitalized in Rostov in serious, but stable condition, was poisoned during the flight.

Babitsky, an award-winning correspondent for RFE/RL’s Russian Service, was abducted in January 2000 by Russian officials after complaining about his reporting on the war in Chechnya–reporting that was praised internationally as balanced and objective. Those officials then claimed to have exchanged Babitsky for several Russian prisoners of war — an exchange that Babitsky said never took place. Russian officials released Babitsky after 40 days in detention, after planting false documents on him. It is these documents which formed the basis of charges of violating Russian passport regulations that were brought against Babitsky. During judicial proceedings, Babitsky was released on his own recognizance but restricted to Moscow until August 2000. Babitsky now lives and works in Prague.