(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to Russian Justice Minister Yuri Chaika, RSF protested the sentencing on appeal of Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky. "This sentence, even a small fine, is iniquitous and unacceptable," said Robert Ménard, the organisation's secretary-general. "This entire matter - from Andrei Babitsky's 16 January arrest in Chechnya, the orchestrated series of events to which he was subjected by Russian armed forces, up to this sentencing - testifies to Russia's flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions," added Ménard.
According to information collected by RSF, on 13 December 2000, the Supreme Court of Dagestan (Russian Caucasus) sentenced Babitsky - a Russian journalist with Radio Svoboda (Radio Free Europe's Russian affiliate) - on appeal, and ordered him to pay a fine of 8350 Rubles (US$300) for holding a fake passport. Initially arrested on 16 January by Federal Forces outside Grozny, Babitsky was detained at a "filtration" camp in Tchernokozovo (in Chechnya's northern region), where he was mistreated. On 3 February, he was "exchanged" for several Russian soldiers and handed over to allegedly pro-Russian Chechen fighters. The fighters then handed the journalist over to an unidentified handler, who finally released Babitsky in Dagestan. According to the journalist, his abducters had intended to send him to Azerbaijan, and gave him a fake Azeri passport for that purpose. On 25 February, he was again arrested by Russian Federal Forces and accused of "possession of a fake passeport". Three days later, he started a hunger strike to protest his detention. He was finally released on 29 February, but placed under house arrest in Moscow. In October, a court of first instance ordered Babitsky to pay an 8350 Ruble fine for holding a fake passport. He refused to accept an amnesty for minor misdemeanours and launched an appeal.
Babitsky is known for his critical reports about the Federal Forces' actions in Chechnya. He notably denounced the poor treatment of "filtration" camp prisoners. In a 10 March interview with the Moscow weekly "Kommersant", Vladimir Putin expressed the following view on Babitsky: "He is clearly in the services of the enemy. What he does is far more dangerous than firing rounds from automatic weapons."