U.S. Department of State
Press Statement by James P. Rubin, Spokesman
Radio Liberty Journalist Andrey Babitskiy
The disappearance of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Andrey Babitskiy and the incomplete and contradictory explanations provided by Russian Government spokesmen have raised the gravest fears as to his fate. The Russian Government is responsible for Mr. Babitskiy's safety and well-being and it is time for Russian officials to come clean. We call on the government to conduct an unbiased investigation and, where necessary, to punish those guilty of wrongful acts. Treatment of a non-combatant as a hostage or prisoner of war is completely unacceptable and incompatible with Russia's adherence to its international commitments and obligations. Mr. Babitskiy's detention and subsequent disappearance have sent a chilling message to friends of a free press both inside Russia and around the world.
Senior officials from our Embassy in Moscow continue to raise Mr. Babitskiy's case with Russian authorities. Secretary Albright stressed the importance of press freedoms and transparency in her recent meetings in Moscow and raised Mr. Babitskiy's case on February 4 with the Russian Foreign Minister.
Mr. Babitskiy was detained in Chechnya by the Russian authorities on or about January 17, but the fact of his detention was not made public until January 29. He continued to be held incommunicado until the Russian Government announced on February 3 that Russian forces had turned him over to Chechen forces in exchange for Russian soldiers. Neither Mr. Babitskiy's employer nor his family have heard from him since January 15.
The development of a free press is one of the foundations of Russia's new democracy. Without a full investigation of this matter, the Russian Government's treatment of Babitskiy, including his detention and the alleged trade, will understandably be seen as an attempt to intimidate or even silence journalists who are critical of the Russian Government's military campaign in Chechnya. We will continue to press for less restrictive access for journalists working to bring independent news about this tragic conflict to the people of Russia and the world.
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