Critic of Chechen war goes on trial over forged documents

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The Independent Online

The radio journalist Andrei Babitsky went on trial yesterday, accused of using forged documents, as the authorities in Moscow continue to hound him for his outspoken criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya.

The radio journalist Andrei Babitsky went on trial yesterday, accused of using forged documents, as the authorities in Moscow continue to hound him for his outspoken criticism of Russian actions in Chechnya.

Mr Babitsky is on trial in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, where he re-emerged earlier this year after being first detained by Russian security forces and then handed over to a group of Chechens whom he says were working with the Russian authorities.

Defence counsel say that Mr Babitsky was compelled to use forged documents because his own were confiscated by Russian security men.

From the beginning of the war in Chechnya a year ago Mr Babitsky was one of the few journalists who moved easily behind Chechen lines. The Russian authorities claimed that he owed his access to his close relationship with Chechen commanders.

The decision to stage the present trial is bizarre in that the original attempt to silence Mr Babitsky backfired spectacularly by making his fate an international cause célÿbre. After his arrest Mr Babitsky was held at Chernokozovo detention centre north of the Chechen capital, Grozny, where he was beaten.

He then agreed to be exchanged for Russian soldiers held by the Chechens. This was duly filmed by federal security, but the rebels subsequently denied that Mr Babitsky was in their hands.

A more likely explanation was that the reporter was being held by a pro-Russian Chechen faction and no exchange had taken place. Mr Babitsky was taken to Makhachkala where he was arrested for having forged documents. It is on this charge that he is now being tried.

Even if Mr Babitsky is found guilty at his trial, his defence lawyer said yesterday that he would have to be released under an amnesty law passed earlier in the year.

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