Index

DATE=6/22/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / MEDIA (L-O) NUMBER=2-263648 BYLINE=EVE CONANT DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Russian authorities are continuing their investigation of Radio Liberty reporter Andrei Babitsky, who was best known for his reports about the conflict in Chechnya. Moscow Correspondent Eve Conant reports his case - and the arrest of another top media figure - have added to growing concern about press freedom in Russia. TEXT: Reporter Andrei Babitsky told a news conference that an investigation into his alleged forging of documents has been extended for a third time. He also said he is being blocked from receiving identification documents that would allow him to leave Moscow. Mr. Babitsky was arrested in Chechnya earlier this year and spent several weeks in the notorious Chernokozovo detention center. He is well known for his investigative, hard-hitting reporting from behind rebel lines in Chechnya. His reports on U-S supported Radio Liberty have aggravated Kremlin authorities who have branded him in the past as - anti-Russian. /// BABITSKY ACT - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// Mr. Babitsky tells reporters he is quite sure his case - in his words - was supervised, and instructions to deport me from Russia, were issued by Vladimir Putin - who was acting president at the time. Although the opinions Mr. Babitsky expresses are his own, there is mounting concern that the new Putin administration is ready to crack down in one form or another on perceived dissent. Mr. Babitsky's lawyer, Genri Reznik, told a news conference that authorities have made it impossible for his client to get new identification documents necessary for him to travel and work freely. /// REZNIK ACT ONE - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// Mr. Reznik says he believes Russian authorities are committing a crime - obstructing a journalist's work. He says there is no other explanation for what he calls - the arbitrariness of the denial of issuing him a passport. He says it is obvious Russian authorities believe Mr. Babitsky's work as a reporter presents a danger. /// OPT /// Mr. Reznik says he will open a criminal case against authorities for obstructing Mr. Babitsky's reporting. He says it is possible that Russian authorities are moving so slowly in their investigation in the hope that the public will slowly forget Mr. Babitsky's predicament. /// END OPT /// There also is the case of another of Mr. Reznik's clients - media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky - who spent several days in jail last week before being formally charged with large-scale fraud. Mr. Gusinsky is head of a media empire that includes Russia's only independent nationwide television network, the Echo Moscow radio station where U-S President Clinton spoke during a recent visit, and several liberal newspapers. Each of those outlets has been critical of President Putin and the military offensive in Chechnya that helped catapult him to power. /// REZNIK ACT TWO - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// Defense lawyer Reznik says it is easy to compare the cases of Mr. Babitsky and Mr. Gusinsky. He says that authorities do not like free and honest reporting. In his words - the reason why Mr. Babitsky is being persecuted is the same reason why Mr. Gusinsky was arrested - the authorities do not want sensitive problems to be reported objectively." President Putin has said Mr. Gusinsky's arrest seemed excessive, but that he could not personally interfere in the case. Friday, Russia's lower-house of parliament is to debate whether to recommend that President Putin fire Russia's prosecutor-general because of his handling of the Gusinsky case. (SIGNED) NEB/EC/JWH/RAE 22-Jun-2000 10:07 AM EDT (22-Jun-2000 1407 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .