A Russian Journalist Came 'Back From The Dead,' And Everyone Has A Lot Of Questions

Journalists' safety going forward is paramount to two organizations.

When news broke that Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in his Kiev, Ukraine home, many observers suspected that he had been killed by powerful members of the Russian government or its allies. It was far from the first time Russia had been accused of orchestrating a journalist's death.

But then, on Wednesday, Babchenko walked into a press conference in Ukraine, shocking the journalists who were present by being alive and apparently uninjured. Babchenko said he had staged his own death to avoid an alleged threat on his life.

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"First of all, I would like to apologize that all of you had to live through this, because I know the horrible feeling when you have to bury your colleagues," Babchenko said to a room full of shocked reporters, per The New York Times. "Separately, I want to apologize to my wife for all the hell she had to go through."

According to remarks made by the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, Vasily S. Gritsak, Babchenko's staged death was part of an operation to stop a very real assassination plot against Babchenko that was being financed by Russia. Babchenko was a war correspondent who has been very critical of the Kremlin in the past and effectively roused a nationalist "campaign of intimidation" against him, The New York Times reported. Gritsak claims the effort to kill Babchenko was "part of a larger conspiracy to assassinate Russian dissidents who had sought safe harbor in Ukraine," per a Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) blog post.

While journalists and politicos celebrated Babchenko's good health, and his miraculous "return from the dead," some critiqued the method by which he avoided the alleged assassination attempt. Ukrainian officials initially accused Russia of ordering the killing and lying about it before the stunt was revealed. Once the officials came clean about the ploy, Russian officials released a statement saying Ukraine should spend its time solving real crimes.

Reporters Without Borders called it a "pathetic stunt," according to the BBC. Contacted by A Plus for comment, CPJ pointed to a lengthy blog post about the unanswered questions around the staged plot, like the identity of the men Ukrainian officials allegedly arrested in connection to the plot and to what degree Babchenko's life was actually in danger. CPJ also pointed out that because Gritsak heads an intelligence agency, one which "engages in deception, obfuscation, and propaganda," figuring out what actually happened or why may end up being impossible. 

"We are greatly relieved that Babchenko is alive," CPJ said in its post. "We recognize that Babchenko participated in the ruse and said he would not be alive without the SBU's intervention. At the same time, this extreme action by the Ukrainian authorities has the potential to undermine public trust in journalists and to mute outrage when they are killed."

While there were criticisms of Babchenko's tactics, there was still a widespread relief that he was safe. 

Kerry Paterson, CPJ's advocacy and communications manager, told A Plus that CPJ's work includes meeting with international bodies to influence policy and ensure press freedom is protected. The organization believes that protecting journalists is a fundamental part of a free and just society.

"In our quest for a free media, CPJ denounces press freedom violations, meets with heads of state and high-ranking officials, spearheads or advises on diplomatic efforts, and works with other organizations to ensure justice prevails for journalists around the globe who have been threatened, censored, attacked, arrested, or killed," Paterson said in an email to A Plus. "Journalists do the important work of safeguarding democracy. They perform an essential function and public service, and when they come under attack, it is not only the journalist — but society as a whole who suffers."

Cover image via REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko.

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