(Washington, DC--December 13, 2000) Thomas A. Dine, the president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, criticized the decision of an appeals court in Russia's Daghestani republic today to uphold a guilty verdict against RFE/RL correspondent Andrei Babitsky.
Dine said the finding of the appeals court, like the original verdict handed down in October, represents "a clear attack on media freedom and an obvious effort by Moscow to intimidate journalists from doing their jobs and reporting the truth."
"We at RFE/RL will not be intimidated by this action," Dine added. "We will support Andrei Babitsky's appeal to the Russian Supreme Court and to the court of world public opinion."
Today's action by the Daghestani Supreme Court leaves in place Babitsky's October conviction on what Dine described as "trumped-up charges" of using a false passport early in 2000. At that trial, he was fined $300, a penalty that was dropped under amnesty conditions then in place. Babitsky has appealed to clear his name.
Babitsky's legal travails began last January when Russian officials arrested him after complaining about his reporting on the war in Chechnya--reporting that had won him praise internationally as balanced and objective. The Russian authorities then claimed to have handed him over to Chechen rebels in exchange for several Russian prisoners of war, an exchange that Babitsky has said never took place and was only staged for the cameras.
After keeping Babitsky in detention for 40 days, Russian officials released him in Daghestan after planting false documents on him. It is these documents which formed the basis of the charges against him, and that is the ostensible reason why he was tried in Daghestan. Following his detention, Babitsky was released on his own recognizance but restricted to Moscow until August. He now works out of RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague.