Russia9 September 2004
Beslan tragedy coverage obstructed
09.09.04 - Release of Rustavi-2 television crew
Nana Lezhava and Levan Tetvadze, of the Georgian TV channel Rustavi 2, were released on 8 September after being held for five days. The North Ossetia security services finally accepted that the two journalists’ passports giving their place of residence as Kazbegi meant they were legally allowed to travel to North Ossetia without visas.
Elsewhere, Zurab Dvali, of Georgian TV channel Mze, and his cameraman were expelled from Beslan to Moscow on the morning of 8 September. Regional security forces who arrived at their hotel the evening before demanding they return to Moscow said they "could not guarantee the safety of Georgian journalists". Their passports were confiscated but the following the day they were taken to the airport and were able to recover their passports on board their Moscow-bound flight.
06.09.04 - Beslan tragedy coverage obstructed
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today that several journalists were prevented from covering the hostage tragedy in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, including Andrei Babitski and Anna Politkovskaya, two Russian specialists in Chechnya, and two employees of the Georgian TV station Rustavi 2, Nana Lezhava and cameraman Levan Tetvadze, who have been held by the Beslan police since 4 September.
"We urge you to ensure that journalists can carry out their work without hindrance, especially at this critical and tragic time when the population has a right to full, impartial and independent information," the organisation said in a letter to Russian interior minister Rashid Nurgaliyev.
Reporters Without Borders also called for the immediate release of the two Georgian journalists and the return of their equipment, as well as an investigation into the circumstances in which Politkovskaya was apparently administered a toxic substance.
The local authorities claimed that Lezhava and Tetvadze did not have the required visas and accreditation, but this was challenged by Rustavi 2 news editor Eka Khoperia, who said they are residents of Kazbegi, a town on the border between Georgia and the Russian republic of North Ossetia, and as such can enter Russia without a visa under an agreement between the two countries.
The local police confiscated their camera, video cassettes, documents and mobile phones. Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili has demanded their immediate release.
Politkovskaya, who works for the Russian daily Novaya Gazeta, made two unsuccessful attempts on 1 September to board a flight at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport with the aim of going to Beslan and trying to negotiate with the terrorists, as she already did during the hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre in 2002.
On her third attempt, she was finally allowed to board a plane but she fell ill during the flight about ten minutes after drinking some tea. She was rushed to a hospital in the southern city of Rostov where doctors diagnosed an acute intestinal infection. Two days later, she was transported to Moscow in a stable condition.
Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitri Muratov said he preferred to await the results of tests before making a statement about the poisoning of Politkovskaya. But he added: "It is nonetheless clear that all the journalists with any authority in Chechnya were kept away from the events unfolding in Beslan."
Babitski, who works for the Russian-language service of Radio Free Europe, was detained at Vnukovo airport when he tried to leave for Beslan on 2 September. Airport police, who said sniffer dogs detected traces of explosives in his bags, released him after searching his belongings.
But two men in plain clothes accosted him as he left the police station and, in an ensuing altercation, he was re-arrested. He was detained until the evening and was convicted of "hooliganism" the next day. An initial sentence of five days in prison was reduced to a fine on appeal.