Journalist beaten, threatened in North Caucasus

New York, December 23, 2008–Russian authorities should promptly investigate the attack on Zhanna Akbasheva, a correspondent for the Regnum news agency in the republic of Karachai-Cherkessia, in Russia’s North Caucasus, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Akbasheva told CPJ that two men attacked her at around 5 p.m. on Monday when she was walking toward the office of a state-funded Cherkess-language newspaper, Cherkess Heku, in the regional capital, Cherkessk. The men punched her and kicked her, and sustained damage to her abdomen. They also warned her to stop her work. She reported the attack to local prosecutor’s office.

Akbasheva covers corruption and press freedom issues in Karachai-Cherkessia. She had recently written about a conflict between the regional government and Cherkess Heku, which began after the newspaper decided not to follow a government order to publish an open letter critical of the minority Circassian population.

“Russian authorities must thoroughly investigate the attack on Zhanna Akbasheva and bring those responsible to justice,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “It is absolutely unacceptable that Akbasheva has been attacked and threatened for practicing the kind of investigative journalism this region needs.”

On the day of the attack, Akbasheva had planned to meet with the Cherkess Heku staff to follow up on the story. The journalist told CPJ that she was late for the meeting and took a shortcut, when the two men suddenly approached and attacked her. “One of them put his hand on my mouth and another started beating me and saying that if I would not stop writing about certain government officials I will feel even worse,” she said.

Akbasheva said she could not see her attackers’ faces, which were covered. Vigen Akopian, Regnum’s editor-in-chief, told CPJ the agency will call on the general prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Interior to investigate the attack.

Akbasheva said she had not received any threats recently but had problems with the regional government after she started covering corruption in the republic. Last summer, she was banned from entering a regional government building and denied accreditation with state agencies. She was denied entry for about a month and is still waiting for her accreditation.