Estonian media associations call Russia to account on Babitski

  • 2000-02-17
TALLINN (BNS) - Organizations uniting Estonian writers and newspapers forwarded on Feb. 15 a strongly worded address to the Russian leader,Vladimir Putin, on the issue of missing reporter Andrei Babitski.

"We have grounds to fear that the Russian government . . . and the military commanders are covering up facts. There has never been any handover," runs the statement by the Estonian PEN club, the Estonian Newspapers' Union and the Estonian Writers' Union.

Babitski, the Radio Free Europe reporter who went missing in Chechnya, is still being kept prisoner by the Russian troops or is killed, the appeal claims.

The Russian authorities are attempting to wash their hands and relieve themselves of the responsibility, as could be surmised by the press conference of the Kremlin's Chechen war press secretary, Sergei Yastrzhembski, the Estonian organizations told the acting Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

The Estonian PEN Club, the Estonian Newspapers' Union and the Estonian Writers' Union said in their appeal that a month after Babitski's arrest by the Russian interior forces they are feeling increasing concern for the fate of their colleague.

"It is difficult for us to believe the Kremlin's official assertion of Babitski's exchange for two Russian prisoners of war. There is no reason for the Chechen side to keep as prisoner a person who has earlier been accused by Russian military circles of partiality in favor of the Chechens in his reporting of events of the war," the organizations wrote.

The authors of the appeal said that Andrei Babitski seems to become the touchstone for Russian authorities.

"We are worried because Babitski's fate may befall also those reporters who demand publication of truth about him. Unless that is done, clouds in the sky of Russia's development will become thicker and thicker, and after the elections in March, it will be difficult to believe in Russia's advance towards democracy and freedom," the organizations wrote.

The Estonian unions of writers and newspapers and the Estonian PEN club added it is in Putin's power to dispel the doubts and to immediately release Andrei Babitski.

"In case he has been killed, however, this should be admitted and his executors brought to justice. This is the only way to give positive meaning to the order you gave to Russian special services today to ensure Andrei Babitski's life and security, not in constant contacts with the Chief Prosecutor's office."

Reports of Babitski having turned up abroad were not confirmed, head of the Russian Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev said Feb. 14.