Media executive severely beaten

New York, May 25, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Sunday’s assault on Dmitry Suryaninov, general director of the Media-Samara holding company, which owns several news outlets in the Samara region of southern Russia. At least two assailants battered Suryaninov with baseball bats near his home in Samara, the regional capital, according to local and international press reports.

Suryaninov remained hospitalized today with a concussion, head laceration, and multiple bruises, according to press reports. His condition was stable, but he was expected to stay in the hospital for at least a week. No money was stolen, local news reports said, although Suryaninov was carrying a considerable sum. Assailants struck Suryaninov numerous times, mainly on the head, before fleeing. The victim was taken to the neurosurgical ward of Samara’s main hospital, local press reports said.

Suryaninov and his colleagues connect the assault to his professional activity, according to several local news reports. As general director, he oversees the editorial policy of all outlets owned by Media-Samara, according to local press reports. The company owns six newspapers, one magazine, three television stations and two radio stations in the region.

Regional prosecutor Aleksandr Yefremov said yesterday that the attack had been reclassified from “hooliganism” to “attempted murder” under Russia’s Criminal Code. Yefremov, who had visited Suryaninov after the attack, said the investigation would be handled directly by his office, local press reports said.

Suryaninov said he believes the attack stems from articles published in April in the business weekly Samarskoye Obozreniye, one of the newspapers owned by Media-Samara, according to local news reports. (Suryaninov edited Samarskoye Obozreniye for several years before becoming Media-Samara’s general director.) The articles discussed the business activities of the Samara-based SOK Group, a leading Russian auto manufacturer. One issue featured a front-page photo of SOK Group President, Yuri Kachmazov, with the headline, “A Declared Billionaire,” according to the Togliatti newspaper Postcriptum, which is also owned by Media-Samara.

Following the April articles, unidentified people started asking Suryaninov’s neighbors when he usually came home, local reports said. Suryaninov said that people he would not name advised him to hire a bodyguard because Samarskoye Obozreniye had “crossed the line” by publishing Kachmazov’s photograph, Postcriptum reported.

SOK GROUP Vice President Aleksei Ofitserov said any suggestion that the company was involved in the attack was “complete nonsense,” the business daily Vedomosti-Samara reported.

“We urge Russian authorities to aggressively investigate this brutal attack on Dmitry Suryaninov and bring the criminals who planned and executed it to justice,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said today. “Journalists in the Samara region should be free to report on important local business news without fearing for their safety.”

The Samara region in southeastern Russia is infamous for organized crime and contract-style killings linked to the automobile industry. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Gerasimov announced at a news conference today that police in Samara region covered up more than 2,000 crimes last year and more than 1,000 in the first months of the current year, the news agency ITAR-TASS reported.

The Samara region includes the city of Togliatti, where Valery Ivanov and Aleksei Sidorov, two successive editors-in-chief of the independent paper Tolyattinskoye Obozreniye, were slain less than 18 months apart in retaliation for the paper’s reporting. Both crimes remain unsolved. To read CPJ’s letter calling for action in the murders: