WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today denounced the Russian Government for refusing to allow a Russian journalist to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) in Bucharest, Romania to accept an award for his journalistic heroism.
“This is just another indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is committed to punishing Andrei Babitsky for his courageous reports from Chechnya when Moscow wanted to silence him,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith, referring to the travel restrictions imposed on Radio Free Europe reporter Andrei Babitsky.
Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said, “This is yet another attempt to keep Mr. Babitsky from speaking freely about his experiences in Chechnya. It is clear that Russian officials are fearful their constituents could actually learn more about how their government operates.”
As a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year, Babitsky was arrested for allegedly “participating in an armed formation.” He remains under investigation in Moscow where officials have prohibited him from leaving the country. Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE PA prize for journalism, but due to restrictions placed on his travel, he will not attend the ceremony in Bucharest, scheduled for July 6.
Chairman Smith and Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) nominated Babitsky for the OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy. There is growing concern among American lawmakers that Babitsky’s treatment and the arrest of media executive Vladimir Gusinsky are indicators that freedom of the press in Russia is deteriorating under Putin’s leadership. On Friday, Smith and Hoyer joined 17 of their congressional colleagues in a letter to Putin urging that Babitsky be allowed to travel to Bucharest to receive a journalism prize awarded during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.
The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), Ranking Member on the House International Relations Committee. “The treatment of Babitsky is only one of the many brazen and prominent examples of government pressure on media freedom and the Gusinsky case is another obvious example,” Chairman Smith said. “Further from the international spotlight, local authorities in Russia’s regions have been harassing and intimidating journalists who print what displeases the powers-that-be.”
OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Helle Degn also recently appealed to the Russian Government to allow Babitsky to travel to Bucharest. The United States Senate and House of Representatives have passed resolutions citing the Russian Government’s mistreatment of Babitsky. Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith and other Delegates to the OSCE PA plan to raise the Babitsky case with Gennady Seleznyov, Speaker of the Duma during meetings in Bucharest this week.