Alerts   |   Russia

Russian reporters beaten; both covered highway project

A man holds up a placard pressing for a thorough investigation into the beating of Oleg Kashin. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

New York, November 8, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces two attacks on journalists in the Moscow region and calls on authorities to end impunity in crimes against reporters in Russia. Both victims, Oleg Kashin of the business daily Kommersant and Anatoly Adamchuk of the independent weekly Zhukovskiye Vesti, have covered a contentious highway project that would go through a forest in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Kashin worked on a number of other sensitive subjects as well.

"We are outraged by the recent attacks on Oleg Kashin and Anatoly Adamchuk and call on Russian law enforcement to investigate every possible lead and question all possible suspects, regardless of their rank and position, CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "No one must be considered above the law in Russia. All of the perpetrators must answer before a court of law and be punished for these brutal crimes."

Although authorities have not pinpointed motives in the attacks, the reports revived memories of a 2008 episode in which assailants savagely beat a newspaper editor, Mikhail Beketov, who had campaigned against a Khimki highway project.

Kashin, 30, was returning home from a Moscow café around 1 a.m. Saturday, when two unidentified men attacked him outside his home, according to local and international news reports. The assailants, who were apparently awaiting Kashin's return, struck him repeatedly with a heavy object, possibly a metal bar, according to press reports. (The Moscow-based news website Lifenews, published a graphic video of the attack that was taken by a nearby surveillance camera.) The attackers did not take any of Kashin's belongings, and fled the scene after a neighbor arrived on the street, Kommersant reported. Kashin was hospitalized with a broken skull, jaw, fingers, and leg; he remained in a medically induced coma today.

Kashin's reporting on the highway project had drawn threats from the pro-Kremlin youth group Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guards). In August, after Kashin reported on anti-highway protests, Molodaya Gvardiya published a column on its website headlined "Journalist-Betrayers Should Be Punished" along with an image of Kashin that was stamped, "He will be punished." The column was removed by Saturday; Molodaya Gvardiya said it was not responsible for the attack. Kashin had also recently criticized the governor of Pskov Region, Andrei Turchak, on his personal blog.

In a separate case, at least two men beat Adamchuk, a journalist with the independent weekly Zhukovskiye Vesti, outside the paper's offices in Zhukovsky early today, the independent news website Lenta reported. Lenta said the assailants approached Adamchuk from behind, knocked him to the ground, and repeatedly struck and kicked him. Adamchuk was hospitalized with a concussion; only a flash drive went missing after the attack, news reports said. Like Kashin, Adamchuk had covered protests against the building of the highway in Khimki.

On Saturday, President Dmitry Medvedev condemned the attack on Kashin and ordered Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to bring the assailants to justice. Russia's Investigative Committee, the nation's top criminal investigative agency, opened a probe and said Kashin's journalism was among the leading motives.

An attack on Thursday also drew attention. Konstantin Fetisov, a Khimki environmental activist, was beaten by at least two assailants armed with baseball bats. He remained in an induced coma today. In a scenario similar to the Kashin beating, the attackers were waiting for the activist outside his apartment building in Khimki, local and international press reports said.

Two years ago this week, Khimki newspaper editor Beketov was brutally beaten in his own front yard by unidentified assailants who broke his skull, legs, and the fingers of both hands; he had to have one leg and several fingers amputated and, having undergone eight surgeries, was still left without the ability to walk or speak. Beketov had reported on and campaigned against the same highway project--started and sponsored by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko. While the investigation into the Beketov attack is "suspended for lack of suspects," Strelchenko is suing the disabled Beketov for criminal defamation in a Khimki court. Beketov had blamed Strelchenko for an earlier attack, an assertion the mayor denied.

"While Russia is allowing this travesty of justice to go on--where the attacked are sued and their attackers go free--the cycle of violence will be perpetuated. We call on authorities to sever that cycle now," Ognianova said. 

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