Survey of the Moscow and Dagestani Press - Sept 28 - Oct 12, 2000
The Trial: “The State vs. Andrei Babitsky”
Director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, Moscow
Special to Prague Watchdog
The trial against Andrei Babitsky, the RFE/RL reporter, who had been detained by Russian special services at one of the checkpoints in Grozny on January 15, 2000, took place in the capital of Dagestan Makhachkala on October 2-6. The special services have also conducted two operations intended to influence public opinion. At first, Andrei Babitsky allegedly consented to be bartered for three prisoners of war who had been held in Chechen captivity. The next attempt, which still took place in February, was to transport the reporter to Azerbaijan with a forged passport issued in the name of Isa Ali Ogly Musaev. The attempt went wrong and in Makhachkala Babitsky was accidentally detained by three Dagestan policemen.
Right from the beginning the representatives of the Russian law-enforcing bodies claimed that Andrei Babitsky was accused of taking part in the activities of bandit units, and forging his documents. In the course of investigation it became clear that Babitsky could not be accused of anything else but using the forged passport. Although the investigation has never tried to find out when, where, and by whom the passport had been issued.
The Russian press paid much attention to this story – there have been over two thousand articles published both in the Moscow and provincial press during the past 6 months. But when the legal procedures started only few Moscow newspapers covered the trial properly.
The newspaper “Novye izvestiya” (28.09.00) publishes an article named “Andrei Babitsky awaits nothing good from the trial” presenting Babitsky’s opinion that he did not expect to win the suit. His lawyer, Henry Reznik, also said to the reporter that he did not know of any “not guilty” verdicts in the cases of this kind in Russian provinces, especially in Dagestan.
The newspaper “Kommersant-Daily” (28.09.00) publishes a report from the press conference with Andrei Babitsky and his lawyers, on which accusations against the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin sounded. Babitsky claimed: “I don’t feel indebted to the President. Neither do I think his interference saved my life. When I was imprisoned in Chernokosovo and Grozny anything could happen to me. And what is more, I am sure that it was Putin who sanctioned my deportation abroad (to Azerbaijan – O.P.).” When asked by the newspaper why Putin needed to interfere Babitsky replied: “A free reporter in Chechnya is unacceptable for the authorities and such reporters are to be punished”.
The newspaper “Vremya novostey” (28.09.00) reminds its readers that the legal procedures was caused by Babitsky’s own principled approach as he refused amnesty. The lawyer Reznik specified that Babitsky cannot be proclaimed as a criminal and then amnestied.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (28.09.00) presents information from Henry Reznik that in Russian courts percentage of “not guilty” verdicts does not exceed 0.4%. That’s why the lawyer called for all reporters to come to Makhachkala and give publicity to the trial in this way. The newspaper also quotes Vladimir Martynov, a representative of the Investigation Committee of MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) of Russia claiming that “Babitsky’s guilt in using forged documents is proved above all doubts.”
The Dagestan newspaper “Novoye delo” (29.09.00) used Reznik’s words to title its article: “You want a suit? You will get it!” The newspaper tells of the possible flow of reporters to view the trial and also quotes the judge Igor Goncharov who said he did not feel any pressure on himself from anyone. R. Magomedov, the chief of the Office of Public Prosecutor of Dagestan who was to represent the office of the State Prosecutor at the trial, said to a reporter of the newspaper that accusations against Babitsky are grounded and “multiple preliminary statements in defense of Babitsky are mere attempts to put pressure on the trial.”
On the day of the beginning of the trial many Moscow newspapers published articles reminding their readers of the main point of accusation. The newspaper “Izvestija” (02.10.00) based its article on antagonisms in Babitsky and his lawyers speaking about political prosecution, and the author titles his article “Purely criminal procedure.” In particular, the author is asking himself why Babitsky, already possessing a forged passport, did not immediately turn to the authorities of Dagestan.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (02.10.00) reports on another press conference of the lawyer Reznik in the “Lux” hotel in Makhachkala one day before the trial. Particularly the lawyer claimed he was ready “to face the possibly most Soviet judiciary: the trial will take place in the court of a Soviet region.” According to Reznik’s forecast the trial would last for 3-4 days and the side of defense has prepared some “surprises”
The newspaper “Moskovsky komsomolets” (02.10.00) quotes other Reznik’s words where he called the Babitsky case “tangled and neglected” and said that the State Office of Public Prosecutor of Russia is trying to “discredit the reporter as much as possible.”
The daily magazine “Itogy” (03.10.00) presents its own forecast of the result of the suit quoting the opinions of different lawyers – Babitsky will be found guilty.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (03.10.00) publishes an interview with Andrei Babitsky who said to a reporter of the newspaper before the start of the trial that he and his lawyers “had submitted an action proposal to institute proceedings against people guilty of committing crimes.” As Babitsky specified, Ivan Golubev, the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia who had taken part in the so-called “barter”, is one of those people. Babitsky also stated that bringing these people to justice is the matter of future, when his trial is over. A report about the first day of the trial is published in the same issue of the newspaper. In particular, this article accounts of the strange behavior of the judge who permitted all reporters – the press, TV and photographers to work their freely. An opinion of the director of the Moscow office of radio “Svoboda” Savik Shuster is presented in the article: “I didn’t expect such openness. The judge allowed just about anything. I think if such a trial was taking place in Moscow all reporters would have been simply thrown out of the court hall. Instead they were constantly crawling under the table of the judge with microphones.”
The newspaper “Kommersant-Daily” (03.10.00) quotes Andrey Babitsky before the beginning of the trial: “I am not waiting for acquittal but I still have hopes for and believe in Caucasian wisdom.” The newspaper presents Babitsky’s depositions and for some reason calls them differing from his earlier evidences.
The newspaper “Vremya novostey” (03.10.00) informs that 24 witnesses were summoned for the trial but only three of them were present on the first day. The defense asked for calling Vyacheslav Izmaylov, famous war reporter, as witness at the trial and the court allowed this appeal.
The newspaper “Moskovsky komsomolets” (03.10.00) presents an opinion of the State Prosecutor Magomedov, who claimed, when reading the charges, that “Babitsky did not have good enough reasons for using the forged passport” as “there were no threats to him on the territory of Dagestan.” The newspaper also reports that the court recognized the rights of Pavel Gutiontov, the secretary of the Union of journalists, to be a Public Attorney as announced by the defense.
The author of “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (03.10.00) reports on an utter indifference to the law proceedings from the side of Dagestan’s authorities and on their perplexity caused by the presence of an international observer, the secretary of the Embassy of Sweden in Moscow Jonas Weis.
The second day of the trial aroused reporters’ interest as well. The newspaper “Dagestanskaya pravda” (04.10.00) brought the main points of witnesses’ depositions and quoted the lawyer Reznik who claimed having doubts that the witnesses of prosecution from Moscow and Kursk would come to the trial at all. “I do not believe in miracles, that’s why I suggest speeding up our work and bring in a verdict within the next few days,” Reznik said.
The newspaper “Kommersant-Daily” (04.10.00) presents the evidence of one of the witnesses of prosecution – one of the policemen who detained Babitsky in Makhachkala. Firstly, the policeman could not explain why he had told Babitsky to show him his passport, secondly, he said the Minister of Internal Affairs of Dagestan Adilgerey Magomedtagirov had extended his gratitude to the policemen for “saving the reporter’s life” and rewarded them with the bonus of 500 rubles each. The State Prosecutor objected to the attorney’s request to make out whether Babitsky was talking about threat to his life but after Reznik’s request to summon the Minister of Internal Affairs of Dagestan to the court he said “the question is settled”.
The newspaper “Vedomosti” (04.10.00) publishes an article by the correspondent Vitaly Portnikov who says that the trial leads the situation up a blind alley as the investigation has never made out how Babitsky obtained the forged passport and what had happened to Babitsky on the territory of Chechnya. Portnikov is recalling the President Putin’s words concerning “dictatorship of law” and continues: “We exactly know that laws are intended to protect a citizen from armed criminals even if, the main state official thinks that this citizen is a bad citizen. If today it is possible to trade a citizen for captive Russian soldiers then tomorrow somewhere in Moscow or in Saint Petersburg it will be possible to trade another citizen for policemen or OMON fighters (special police troops) ambushed by other bandits”.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (04.10.00) continuing its series about the procedure accentuates the State Prosecutor’s questions; he would have been constantly asking Babitsky why he felt threatened and from whom this threat would bee coming. The lawyer Reznik asked to redirect the questions to the representatives of law-enforcing bodies and said that exactly the General Office of Public Prosecutor had “cut off all information concerning episodes preceding Babitsky’s appearance in Makhachkala.”
The Dagestan issue of the newspaper “Moskovsky komsomolets-Kavkaz” (05.10.00) titled its article about first days of the legal procedure using Babitsky’s words “I don’t consider myself guilty”. The whole article is based on Babitsky’s statements.
The newspaper “Obshchaya gazeta” (05.10.00) writes about a routine legal procedure focusing on the fact that “Babitsky’s case is artificially divided in two parts – Dagestan and Chechen.” The author presents data from his own investigation and publishes information received from the security personnel of the “Kaspiy” hotel where Babinsky had been kept guarded before being taken to the border between Dagestan and Azerbaijan. Witnesses claim Andrei was guarded by two men in camouflaged uniforms.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (05.10.00) presents details of the trial, in particular that Babitsky identified a photo in the newspaper “Segodnya” on which he recognized one of the men who escorted him from Chechnya to Dagestan. As it was found out later, the man was a FSB (Federal Security Service) officer. It was also cleared up later that this officer had been moved to serve in Siberia.
The newspaper “Kommersant-Daily” (05.10.00) reports on the attention to the trial from the part of the students of the Law Faculty of the Dagestan University. It also states that the trial itself has been dragging out due to the absence of the witnesses of prosecution from Moscow and Kursk.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (06.10.00) quotes the words of the State Prosecutor Magomedov who said that “Andrei Babitsky, even if he is not guilty, must be tried to learn an edifying lesson.” One day before the final day of the trial the witness Vladimir Burov, the chief of the Center of passport and visa information (CPVI) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, was interrogated. He stated that a passport form got lost from the table of his subordinate Nikolay Bezgen; this passport form was later issued in the name of Musaev. It was proved Bezgen had been commissioned to Chechnya more than once but this fact didn’t awake the court’s interest. The CPVI chief claimed the loss of a form to be “only accidental.” The State Prosecutor in his appearance asked the court to sentence Babitsky to a fine equaling 150 minimum wages and then amnesty him in accordance with the “Amnesty Act” referring to the 55th anniversary of the Victory Day.
The newspaper “Kommersant-Daily” (06.10.00) quotes Reznik who claimed once again that the reason of Babitsky’s prosecution is that “the authorities didn’t like the way the journalist depicted the Chechnya campaign in his reports.” “What does the Prosecutor want when he is backed up by the highest state authorities? They want to discredit Babitsky in the public at least for ten seconds. At least for the period when the sentence will be read up,” he said.
The newspaper “Segodnya” (07.10.00) describes the last day of the trial. Babitsky, having his last word, claimed he did not feel guilty and “the whole procedure was initiated by the authorities with the aim to discredit him.” The court hall was packed by 3 PM on October 6. But as the judge was reading the text page by page it was getting clear that chances for acquittal equal zero. The court sentenced Babitsky to a fine of 8349 rubles (approximately 300 USD) and amnestied him immediately. After the verdict Babitsky stated he had not expected such an outcome. “I will appeal to the Supreme court of Dagestan and, if needed, to the Supreme court of Russia. If we fail to achieve justice there, then any Russian citizen has the prerogative to defend his rights in Strasbourg. So this trial can be regarded as an intermediate,” Babitsky said. Reznik said to the reporters that he considers the judge to be professional but specified that “it is apparently still forbidden for regional courts to bring in “not guilty” verdicts.”
The newspaper “Vremya MN” (07.10.00) quotes Babitsky’s final words: “Very many of my colleagues are very carefully observing how this all will end up. It is important for them to find out whether a reporter can work in this country without fearing to be proclaimed a criminal.”
The author of the newspaper “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (07.10.00) writes about the pressure put on the procedure by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. In the author’s opinion “all these days the radio would rate the state officials present at the trial in an almost humiliating way.”
The war correspondent of the newspaper “Novaya gazeta” (09.10.00) Vyacheslav Izmaylov, who acted as a witness of the defense, writes that the court never even started to consider the evidence concerning the so-called “barter”, which should have been an important part of the Babitsky case. However, neither the investigation nor the judge have checked Izmaylov’s evidence that there no barter took place in reality and that the whole event was only staged by the Russian special services.
In an interview with the newspaper “Segodnya” (09.10.00) Babitsky expresses his point of view on events in Chechnya calling the continuing war a war crime. Babitsky said that from the very beginning of the military operations military censorship have been put in place. When asked why the federal army officials consider him an enemy and the Chechens regard him as ally, he responded that “it is a normal situation. From the very beginning the working conditions of the journalists were very harsh because they could work only under a strict control of the press officers.”
The weekly newspaper “Moskovskie novosti” (10.10.00) writes “the Babitsky case” illustrates the struggle between ideas of operational expediency and lawfulness, between political despotism and justice in the current “Putin’s regime”.
The newspaper “Nezavisimaya gazeta” (10.10.00) publishes a report on the press conference in Moscow where the following were present: Andrey Babitsky, the lawyer Henry Reznik, public defender Pavel Gutiontov, the president of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty Thomas Dine, witness of the defense Vyacheslav Izmaylov. Concerning the present status of Babisky as a reporter he said that he could not work normally without an accreditation from the Ministry of internal affairs because his accreditation card was taken from him while he was detained in Chechnya.
The contributor to “Novaya gazeta” (12.10.00) Vyacheslav Izmaylov writes about the attitude to the trial among the people in Makhachkala. “Many people would come to us and express their sympathies and support. Those would be ordinary citizens as well as the officials from the administration and local bodies of internal affairs, and the employees of the Office of Public Prosecutor.”