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Russian court overturns Beketov defamation conviction

New York, December 10, 2010--The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved that the Khimki City Court has overturned the defamation conviction of editor Mikhail Beketov, a verdict that had been condemned in Russia and abroad. 

Beketov, with CPJ's Kati Marton, suffered injuries so severe he lost a limb and the ability to speak. (CPJ/Nina Ognianova)

Beketov had been found guilty last month of slandering Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko in a 2007 television interview. In the interview, the journalist said his car had been set on fire and that the mayor was responsible. Beketov, whose paper, Khimkinskaya Pravda, had opposed a highway project backed by the mayor, was severely injured in a brutal attack a year later.

"We welcome today's verdict, which rightfully clears our colleague Mikhail Beketov," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Nina Ognianova said. "Now Russian authorities must focus their efforts on bringing to justice those who nearly killed Beketov in November 2008."

Unknown assailants attacked Beketov in the front yard of his home in 2008 and left him for dead in the November cold. The attackers broke Beketov's legs, crushed his skull, and smashed his fingers. The editor underwent a series of lifesaving surgeries, but one leg and several fingers on both hands were amputated. He can no longer walk or speak. As the criminal investigation into his brutal beating languished--authorities suspended the probe for a lack of suspects--Strelchenko's defamation case against the editor moved forward.

CPJ condemned Beketov's November 10 conviction and called on the Khimki courts to overturn it on appeal. CPJ board member Kati Marton, who visited Beketov in a Moscow hospital in September, sent an open letter to Strelchenko, calling on him to "drop this unwarranted and cruel complaint." As outrage at the injustice grew, Russia's top investigator, Aleksandr Bastrykin, ordered the assault investigation be reopened.

The Russian legal system took another step toward justice today, when Khimki City Court Judge Neonila Zepalova ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict Beketov on criminal defamation charges. A journalist and environmental campaigner, Beketov had fought the Strelchenko administration's plans to build a highway that could destroy a Khimki forest. He also criticized Strelchenko for nepotism and corruption on the pages of Khimkinskaya Pravda

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