Saturday, August 06, 2005

Russia Restricts ABC News for Airing Basayev Interview

On July 28, ABC News' Nightline broadcast segments of an interview conducted by Russian reporter Andrei Babitsky with Chechen terrorist and militant commander Shamil Basayev (right), dismissing strong protests from the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C.

Basayev has admitted being the mastermind behind the September 2004 Beslan school siege, which resulted in the deaths of 330 people, half of them children. He has also admitted planning the October 2002 Moscow Theater hostage crisis, which ended in the deaths of 130 civilians, only two of them at the hands of the terrorists with the others dying as a result of chemical gas pumped into the theater by Russian security forces. Basayev has also admitted that he has played a major role in a host of other terrorist attacks inside Russia, as well as deadly attacks on Russian military and security forces inside the war-torn nation of Chechnya, which has long been occupied or invaded by Russia/the Soviet Union. The Russian government is offering $10 million for information that leads to the capture or killing of Basayev.

For more information on Chechen terrorist and militant commander Shamil Basayev, including atrocities committed by his fighters, see:

After the program aired, the Russian embassy reiterated its outrage, stating that it did not know how the U.S. government could "allow" an American news organization to broadcast an interview with an admitted terrorist. In a curt response to a reporter's question on July 29, U.S. Department of State Spokesman Sean McCormack said, "With respect to the issue of the broadcast of this interview, the U.S. Government has had no involvement in ABC's decision to air the interview. The U.S. Government has no authority to prevent ABC from exercising its constitutional right to broadcast the interview...[It] is a constitutional right of an American media outlet to broadcast an interview and we did not have any role to play in the decision to air the interview."

On August 2, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it would place severe restrictions on the access ABC reporters and news staff in their country. ABC staff would not have their accreditations renewed and they will be banned, at least for the temporarily, from speaking with Russian government officials. The Foreign Ministry accuses ABC of "helping to propagandize terrorism." Foreign Ministry Spokesman Boris Malakhov alleged that ABC "demonstrated its outrageous disregard for the standards of journalists' responsibility and common human values."

It is strange that the Russian government, which has long trampled the rights of journalists and has committed atrocities in Chechnya for years (left), is so concerned with journalistic responsibility and human values.

In his final thought during the July 28 show, Nightline host Ted Koppel defended ABC's decision to broadcast segments of the interview and said that they were news-worthy: "It is of real value only because it guarantees us access to the unpopular espousing the unacceptable. Then we can reject or accept it, condemn it or embrace it. No one should have the authority to make that decision for us. Not our own government; and certainly not somebody else's."

During the show, Basayev's role in terrorism against Russian and Chechen civilians was clearly stated.

The Russian government also announced that they plan on investigating the legal status of Babitsky, to see if he was supposed to be in Chechnya when he interviewed Basayev. Babitsky, a veteran Russian reporter, has covered the two Chechen wars (1994-96; 1999-To Present) and is often critical of the brutal tactics used by the Russian military against Chechens, both militants and civilians. The human rights abuses and war crimes committed by the Russian military have long been condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the U.S. government, and European governments.

Atrocities have been committed by both Russian forces and certain Chechen militant groups (right), though the U.S. Department of State continues to recognize that not all Chechen separatist groups are engaged in terrorism. Foreign fighters, including Arabs from the Persian Gulf states, have also come into Chechnya, leading to the steady radicalization of the Chechen independence movement. The Russian government has tried to convince the world that all Chechen separatists are terrorists, something that other world governments and non-governmental organizations have continued to reject.

For more information on Chechen terrorist groups, see:

To view a web site highly sympathetic to Chechen terrorist groups, see:

To read a Human Rights Watch Report, issued on March 10, about Russian abuses, see:

To read a July 1 report from Amnesty International on Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, see:

The Committe to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in response to the decision of the Russian government: "This action reflects the Kremlin's growing intolerance of any kind of criticism, especially in regard to its actions in Chechnya." CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement that the Russian government is "clearly trying to intimidate foreign journalists into censoring their news reporting on the war in Chechnya. We call on the (foreign) ministry to reverse its decision immediately."

To read the Committee to Protect Journalists' (CJP) official letter of protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry for its decision to place restrictions on ABC News, see:

To read the section of the CJP's Attacks on the Press 2004 report on Russia, see:

Over the last several years, Russian society has become increasingly restricted as the government's power steadily increases. Under President Vladimir Putin (left), the Russian government has waged a campaign against critics and political opponents of the regime. Putin also ordered the re-invasion of the breakaway republic of Chechnya in 1999, allegedly in response to "terrorism" in Moscow, though his claims have never been conclusively verified. A notorious autocrat and former KGB officer, Putin has come under increasing pressure from the European Union and U.S. President George W. Bush to halt his move toward a totalitarian Russian state. However, his decision to place restrictions on ABC and his continuation of the consolidation of his own power at home clearly show that Putin has no intention of moving Russia toward true democracy.

For more information on the spat between the Russian government and ABC News, see:,1280,-5177306,00.html

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