Independent journalist beaten in southern Russia

New York, June 25, 2007—
The Committee to Protect Journalist is concerned about a recent assault against Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the online magazine Novy Focus, in the southern city of Abakan, capital of the Russian republic of Khakasiya.

Afanasyev was attacked on June 16 by at least two men who identified themselves as police officers and beat him on the head with a heavy object, causing him to temporarily lose consciousness, according to the journalist and local news reports. When he regained consciousness, Afanasyev discovered that the attackers had stolen his identity papers, two cell phones, and jacket. He said he had no cash and that no other valuable items were taken.

The attack came just days before a court ruled against Afanasyev in a libel case. On Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration in Abakan convicted Afanasyev of criminal libel. The charge stemmed from a September 2006 article that erroneously accused a former aide to the regional prosecutor of involvement in a hit-and-run accident. Afanasyev was ordered to pay 101,000 rubles ($3,884) in damages; he also published a retraction.

Novy Focus is an online socio-political news magazine that covers both local and national issues. It has an investigative reporting section that concentrates on Khakasiya political and economic problems.

Afanasyev has long been at odds with local authorities. Since 2003, Khakasiya officials had filed five prior libel lawsuits against the journalist. He won all of the previous five, he told CPJ.

In November 2006, the Abakan Interior Ministry filed a claim with the Court of Arbitration, accusing the journalist of failing to register his Web publication with the federal media regulator Rosokhrankultura. The court immediately ordered the closure of the Web site. Afanasyev appealed the verdict and the City Court of Abakan overturned the earlier decision, according to local press reports.