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Journalist Reported Killed Reappears; Report: Nicaragua Using Shoot- To-Kill Policy. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 30, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, reality stranger than fiction, a dissident Russian journalist who was declared dead turns up
hours later alive. I'll ask Ukraine's prosecutor general, the man seen here with him, why he staged his murder. And I speak to Arkady Ostrovsky,
Russia editor for "The Economist".
Plus, human rights defender Bianca Jagger joins me as Amnesty International accuses Nicaragua's government of using a shoot-to-kill strategy on
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
And it's a story right out of a spy thriller. Yesterday brought us the shocking news that a dissident Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko was
assassinated in the lobby of his Kiev apartment.
Shot in the back. That's what Ukrainian authorities reported and the story sounded sadly all too familiar. We even saw a crime scene, his wife was
said to have found his body.
So, imagine the shock and the whiplash today as Kiev during a press conference called to discuss Babchenko's killing said the following.
AMANPOUR: Yes. That is the journalist himself, Babchenko, back from the dead - or rather, never really dead at all. The whole thing, authorities
said, was an elaborate ruse to root out those behind a very real assassination threat against him.
Babchenko apologized to his wife. Even she, he said, didn't know about the plan to fake his own death. And the authorities say they have one person
So, joining me from Kiev is Ukraine's Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko, who revealed the operation and the living Babchenko to the world's press
today, and here in London is Arkady Ostrovsky, Russia editor for "The Economist" and author of "The Rise of Putin and the Age of Fake News".
Welcome to the program both of you. Let me start in Kiev with you Mr. Prosecutor General. Gosh, really? The whole world is trying to figure out
what on earth possessed you to carry out this sting operation, this fake news.
YURII LUTSENKO, PROSECUTOR GENERAL OF UKRAINE: Good evening in London. The Ukrainian secret service has documented that Russians have recruited
our Ukrainian citizens, who - for the implementation of this cynical plan of murdering a Russian journalist who now is living here in Ukraine.
But the matter is that this plan also commit a number - not one, but number of terrorist attacks with numerous victims. And that is why it was decided
by our law enforcement bodies that we need to carry out this operation to know more about possible victims and certainly about customer of this
possible murder of Arkady Babchenko.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, let me then ask you, Mr. Prosecutor General. Let me ask you, sir. Sorry to interrupt you. Was it worth it? The criticism
that you're getting, the ridicule that the operation has come under around the world, was it worth it? Did you get a high target? Are these top-
ranked assassins? Who have you got in custody?
LUTSENKO: Yes. Yesterday, when we declared about this murder, we know that Arkady Babchenko is alive, but we need for customer not know that
there is an imitation. We expected and we received new couple of evidence to know about possible new victims and certainly about customer in Moscow.
For us, it was very, very important.
AMANPOUR: When you say customer, you mean the person who organized this? So, what have you discovered? Who are the people you have in custody?
LUTSENKO: Now the investigation is still going. And I even can say that immediately now the investigation actions is doing with this person who was
an organizer. And certainly, we know now some facts about possible customers. And all of them are (INAUDIBLE 5:09) Ukraine in Russian
Federation exactly specifically.
[14:05:14] So, now, it depends of our investigation actions. Could we receive new couple of evidences? And certainly, now, if you see, I am
speaking only about Russians, but I can't say now, in this moment, personally who was a customer.
But the reaction of Russian Federation is very funny and very - they opened themselves because from yesterday they are speaking about Ukraine as a land
who - or a country who couldn't defend their citizen and even hostages.
LUTSENKO: Refugees. So, I think that now we have some couple of very important evidence to speak about customer.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, Mr. Lutsenko, let me ask you this. You say - sir, sorry. You say that you feel you feel you've proved the ability to defend
your sovereignty and to disrupt these kinds of plots.
But the Russian foreign ministry has said, of course, the fact that Babchenko is alive is the best news and she added Babchenko was, obviously,
used as propaganda.
But, even worse, a committee to protect journalists, the people who lobby for our safety said, Ukrainian authorities must now disclose what
necessitated the extreme measure of staging use of the Russian journalist's murder.
And people are very concerned that this is just going to enable Russia to claim that everything is fake news. Dead journalists? Fake news. The
Skripals? Fake news. What do you say about that?
LUTSENKO: I don't want to comment the lies of Russians, but I can say with sure that we have exposed Russians who were the country who destroyed MH17
of Malaysia Airlines with nearly 300 victims on the board that were Russians who have organized some terrorist acts not only against our
special forces officers, but against our MP and we have - and we -
AMANPOUR: Are you saying - Mr. Lutsenko, are you saying Russian government operatives or Russian freelancers? Are you accusing the Russian
government or just Russians?
LUTSENKO: If we are speaking about MH 17, it is well known that it is a Russian military authority.
AMANPOUR: I'm talking about this plot. I'm talking about the Babchenko plot.
LUTSENKO: In this case - in this Babchenko case, now we are on investigation stage, now we're speaking with our citizens who was an
organizer of this possible murder. And it depends whose name, whose offices he will say for us.
AMANPOUR: OK. Standby, Mr. Prosecutor General. I want to turn to Mr. Ostrovsky here in our studio, Arkady Ostrovsky, you are the Russia editor
for "The Economist". First of all, what do you make of this sting operation?
ARKADY OSTROVSKY, RUSSIA EDITOR FOR "THE ECONOMIST": Well, I think this is pretty sad, frankly. The good news is that Arkady Babchenko is alive.
What's sad about it is that this actually shows the same disregard of truth and the same disregard of reality that we've seen in Russia's actions.
And it's actually more infectious. It is now, if you like, infiltrating, penetrating Ukraine as well. This is absurdity becoming a reality
basically. This is not out of the plot of a thriller. This is out of a plot of George Orwell. This is out of a plot of Kafka.
Staging an operation, declaring somebody dead who is not, this is fake news. And there is no two ways about it. And I'm very unconvinced about
the idea of how a potential assassin would disclose something after the Ukrainian authorities declared that he was dead that he wouldn't disclose
before. It just doesn't frankly sit together.
But to do this also in a few days after the investigation report from the Dutch authorities into the death of 298 people, who died for real, totally
innocent victims of MH17, and this people, the relatives who wrote an open letter saying we are real, Russia is trying to engage in this sort of
negation of truth, if you like, and now the same is happening in Ukraine.
[14:10:02] And this is actually an insult to all those. It's an insult to journalists who desperately we're trying to see through the fog of war and
disinformation. It is an insult to the those who are dead and the insult to their relatives.
AMANPOUR: I see that you're really angry. We have a soundbite from Babchenko, the journalist in question, who, let's not forget, is a
dissident journalist. He has been writing against Russia, particularly about MH17. He had to flee for his own safety to Ukraine and, obviously,
presumably he felt that there was some plot and danger against him.
But this is what he said as a sort of a mea culpa, an explanation at the press conference today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARKADY BOBCHENKO, JOURNALIST WHOSE DEATH WAS STAGED (through translator): Good afternoon. I'll speak in Russian and I'm sorry. Firstly, I would
like to apologize for what you all had to go through because I've buried friends and colleagues many times. And I know it's a sickening, vomiting
feeling when you have to burry your colleagues. You're sorry that they forced you to experience all of this. But in another way, it was
Also, I would like to apologize to my wife for the hell she has been through in these last two days. Olechka, I'm sorry, but there were no
I would like very much to thank the security services of Ukraine for saving my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Arkady, he has apologized, but he believes that this sting operation saved his life and maybe saves other lives.
OSTROVSKY: Might have done. I'm more concerned, to be honest, about the - what it tells us about the state of the Ukrainian government and the state
of affairs in Ukraine.
And just as this story is breaking out, another story is breaking out. And the prosecutor general, who you've been talking here, is actually supposed
to be fighting with corruption.
And I just learned, just before coming into the studio, that the Finance Minister of Ukraine Oleksandr Danylyuk, who has been probably one man who
has been trying to root out corruption together with the bureau against corruption, has been pushed into resignation.
This is a very bad sign for all the international institutions in the West. This is bad news for Ukraine. And frankly, with friends like this, you
don't need any enemies.
AMANPOUR: Mr. Lutsenko, prosecutor general there in Kiev, you heard we now have a scoop on the air. Our "Economist" editor says that your finance
minister has been forced out. He's doing a forced resignation, so to speak, because he feels that the anti-corruption effort is being thwarted
by other members of the establishment. Your reaction to the finance ministers being forced to resign.
LUTSENKO: Speaking about tackling with corruption, I can say for you that we have good results of last year.
First of all, we have retained to the state budget 1.5 billion stolen US dollars of previous regime of President Yanukovych. One-and-a-half billion
dollars now is working for society and country defense.
The second fact, we have received 1,700 verdicts about corruption cases. Once again, 1,700 verdicts. It's three times more than any year before the
revolution. That is why I think that we're going a right road.
What we need? Yes, we need a big fish. And that is why a plan of anti- corruption court is very useful and very important for Ukraine. I'm sure that Ukrainian parliament will pass this law. It is their job and they
know this executive.
AMANPOUR: All right. Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko, thank you for joining us from Kiev. And, Arkady, your reaction to the corruption claim?
OSTROVSKY: Well, I would just like to say this is not unfortunately the first sting operation that the Prosecutor General Lutsenko has staged.
He staged another one which was to subvert the action of the anti- corruption bureau in Ukraine, which is backed by the US government, which is backed by the European governments to subvert the work of Oleksandr
AMANPOUR: Finance minister of Ukraine.
OSTROVSKY: The finance minister who has been pushed, as we speak, into resignation. And this raises very serious concerns about the priorities of
the Ukrainian government and the distractions they are using to shift attention from.
AMANPOUR: Well, everybody can read more about this story online at "The Economist". Extraordinary. You've got a scoop of political proportions
and we've got this unbelievable story of the day with the dead-and-now- alive journalist.
Thank you both very much for joining us this evening.
And now, we turn to Nicaragua which is looking more and more like a war zone as the government of President Daniel Ortega seeks to crush widespread
More than 70 people are dead and close to 900 hurt in the uprising. Now, you probably remember Ortega. He was the Sandinista rebel leader who
overthrew the Nicaraguan dictatorship in 1979 and then fought a civil war against US-backed contras during the Reagan years in the 80s.
[14:15:12] Now, after serving multiple terms as president, increasing discontent with Ortega's stifling autocracy has burst into the open after
his government cut back social security assistance, and that sparked a nationwide uprising last month.
Human rights group, Amnesty International, says the government is using a shoot-to-kill strategy on protesters.
Now, today is Mother's Day in Nicaragua. And tens of thousands of people are taking to the streets to remember the sons, the brothers, the fathers
killed since the violence began.
And I put all of this to a mother and human rights defender, Bianca Jagger, one of Nicaragua's most famous faces. She's seen the violence firsthand
when students clashed with armed officers at a university on Monday and she joined me from Nicaragua's capital, Managua.
Bianca Jagger, welcome to the program.
BIANCA JAGGER, FOUNDER, BIANCA JAGGER HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.
AMANPOUR: Here you are, trying to bring a lot of attention to this underreported chaos that's engulfing your country. Are you going out?
Will you be part of the march that's being held today by the mothers?
JAGGER: I will indeed be marching with the mothers since what I'm doing here is to support the students and to call upon Daniel Ortega and his
wife, Rosario Murillo, who is the vice president, to stop the killing of the students, of the youth in this country and of the civilian population.
Therefore, I feel it's my duty to be with the mothers and to call. Maybe he will change his mind and stop and release the students who are in prison
today because many of the students have appeared to be tortured, to be burned and to be killed.
And the report that I participated yesterday from Amnesty, the report is called Shoot to Kill and that is what I've seen while I've been in
Nicaragua, that the police, the paramilitary and the tour bus, as they call here, and the riot police are shooting to kill the students, on anyone who
AMANPOUR: Bianca, you were at the Managua University earlier this week and a whole mayhem erupted. And you were quoted as saying, they - the security
forces - were dressed to look as if they were going to war, except that their targets were young unarmed students.
Describe what you yourself experienced as that broke out at the university.
JAGGER: I was at an university called the University of Central America, UCA. And across the street from that university is the engineering -
And while I was visiting the dean of that university, who has been persecuted, we began to hear shots, we began to hear mortars and we came
down and I went all the way to the area close to the other university where I could see what was happening.
And first, we saw the paramilitaries who arrived who enthused Sandinista. And the population came to support the students who were inside -
barricaded inside the engineers' university.
And there was a moment of calm. But then, they send on the anti-riot police. But the anti-riot police are coming dressed and some of them -
some of the police has AK-47, some have weapons of war as if they are going to war.
And the most shocking thing to me when I saw that is that they're coming to shoot and to kill the students who are unarmed and who are determined to be
fighting a civic, non-violent revolution in this country, have no intention in any way to use violence against the Ortega regime.
And why is that happening? And for those people who cannot understand the difference of having young people who have been the victims, who have been
the ones who have been killed so far, we have 85 people who've been killed. That is at least 900 or 1,000 who have been wounded. There are many
hundreds who have disappeared and who are in jail, and this continues. And it doesn't seem to stop.
We need the international community to speak up. We need the leaders from Latin America to speak up. We need Mr. Almagro, who is the secretary of
the OAS, to speak up because Mr. Almagro gave the seal of approval to the elections in Nicaragua, the elections that were not real, elections that
were stolen from the people in Nicaragua.
So, now is his turn. What is happening? I mean, why is Nicaragua not the center of attention? (INAUDIBLE) is not important that students, that kids
are being killed.
[14:20:10] Well, we are paying attention to it now and perhaps it was that amount of death that caused the world to focus on it, particularly at a
time when the United States has so many struggles now with what's happening in - south of its border and trying to combat refugees and migrants who are
But I want to play you - you've talked a lot about Daniel Ortega - an earlier, a couple of weeks ago, during talks mediated by the Catholic
Church, this is what he said about all of this violence, just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL ORTEGA, PRESIDENT OF NICARAGUA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We're pained by the death of any human being on this planet when they die violently.
And, of course, the deaths pain us.
These kids, these youngsters, young people of different political views because they were kids who opposed the government, who were critical of the
government, well within their rights. And Sandinista kids died too. And police died as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: What do you make of what he said? And again, in light of the Amnesty report that specifically says that they found the government
ordering shoot to kills and colluding with mobs to suppress protests.
JAGGER: He is a liar, a hypocrite. Either he's delusional or he doesn't know what he's talking about. He is the chief in charge. He has put
himself in the Constitution as the person who is in charge of the police, of the Army, of everything. He has dismantled all legal institutions.
And I, today, on Mother's Day in Nicaragua, I call upon Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo to please stop the killing of our young people. This is
unfair. You're killing innocent civilians who are not fighting with you with weapons, like you did against Somoza.
So, stop lying and stop misleading the public. You can no longer mislead the people in Nicaragua. The sleeping tiger has awakened.
AMANPOUR: So, let me ask you about the specifics because everybody remembers Nicaragua from the 80s, the bad old days, if you like. But on
the other hand, some people thought that it was - Daniel Ortega was doing a heroic job of fighting a dictatorship.
What happened? What went wrong? Because, clearly, he's been in power now for at least the last 11 years, and that was after another long stint in
the late 90s. What are people so angry about?
JAGGER: What I learned in life and why I am a human rights defender and not a politician is because power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts
I know Daniel Ortega very well. I know Rosario Murillo not as well as I do him. I fought the Contra revolution.
But this man, when he lost the election, which he was decent and he handed over power to Mrs. Chamorro, when he came back to power, it was perverse,
it was corrupt. He made deals with the most corrupt members of society in this country. He made deals with the richest family, with the oligarchy,
with the private sector.
He began to buy political parties. He began to dismantle political parties. He dismantled the legal institutions. And he did everything, so
that he had control.
He bought all the networks. He has about 12 or 14 networks of television network. We only had one independent paper and one independent radio and
another a small radio.
He had control of everything. Of the media, of the information. That's why he has not killed the students, but he killed journalists as well and
human rights activists (ph).
AMANPOUR: Bianca, what do you make of that group of people who you're talking about, who for a long time supported him because I sort of
understand - and correct me if I'm wrong - that elements of the military are uncomfortable with this level of violent response, that members of the
private sector are becoming uncomfortable with what's going on, that the Catholic Church which was trying to mediate saw that it was going nowhere
and it has just stepped out. It doesn't want to be involved in something that's escalating in violence like this. And the Pope has called for an
end to this violence.
Are important sectors of Nicaraguan society turning away from Ortega or are they still sticking with him?
JAGGER: Well, the most important one, the military has come out and said they will not shoot at the population, at the civilian population. That's
really important for the time being.
[14:25:00] Then you have, of course, the private sector who feel targeted in a way, feel shame because of the deals of some of them, with the deals
that they have with the government. So, they have issued a statement to try to distance himself from him.
The Catholic church today is different. Cardinal Obando Bravo caved in and campaigned with Daniel Ortega, but the church today and the conference of
bishops that have been leading the dialogue in Nicaragua are remarkable and we have a heroic priest that is called Silvio Baez that people love in this
country and who is really a leader and who stand up and who has been threatened to be killed. His life is in danger in Nicaragua.
So, you have a lot of those sectors who have, in some ways, been - supported Daniel Ortega who are turning his back. So, he's against the
But my fear is that dictators who are desperate will do desperate things. And today, when I march, on Twitter, there are some calls to attack the
mothers and all of those who will participate in the march.
So, when I go out, I am wondering what will happen, what will happen to them, what may happen to me. I don't know. I hope that God is with us and
that I will come back and be able to talk to you again.
AMANPOUR: Well, I hope so too, Bianca. Are you afraid?
JAGGER: Yes. People who say they're not afraid, they're foolish. I've been with you in Bosnia. I've been afraid. I know the risk. I am here
because I think that my voice is important.
I am here because I feel about each of these kids as if they were my kids or maybe my grandchildren, as a mother and because I can't conceive - I
can't fathom that little children - because they're children, some are 15 - have been killed and that they are prepared to be killed.
They're prepared to sacrifice themselves. I have met with them. And they say to me, we think we're dead. Every minute that we live, we're living on
AMANPOUR: Well, listen. Thank you for putting a spotlight on this incredible story. And good luck. Bianca Jagger, thanks for joining us
JAGGER: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, because of the accusations against pro-government armed groups, we have reached out to the Nicaraguan government to respond, but
they have not gotten back to us.
And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.