Newspaper editor attacked in Moscow region

New York, February 5, 2009–Russian authorities must launch a serious investigation into an evident attack on Yuri Grachev, editor of pro-opposition weekly Solnechnogorsky Forum, who is hospitalized with a concussion, broken nose, and lacerated cheek, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. An initial statement from authorities, which suggested the injuries might be the result of a fall, reflects a potential lack of diligence, CPJ said.

Neighbors found Grachev, 72, unconscious and bleeding in the entrance to his apartment building in the town of Solnechnogorsk, Moscow Region, at around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, the business daily Kommersant reported. Grachev was immediately taken to a local hospital.

According to local press reports, Solnechnogorsky Forum was critical of local authorities and covered corruption cases in the region. Several local government officials and businessmen were charged with corruption in 2007 in the wake of the newspaper’s reports, the independent news Web site Gazeta reported. The paper has also been covering the March municipal election, including the campaigns of opposition candidates.

“We are appalled by the brazen attack on our colleague Yuri Grachev and call on Russian authorities to investigate all leads, including his journalism, and bring all perpetrators to justice,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We are concerned that local investigators are playing down the attack and jumping to an early conclusion by calling it an accident. We urge them to do due diligence and conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”

Grachev told police that he remembers little of the attack, except that he walked into his apartment building and tried to open the door of the building, Kommersant reported. Moscow Region Police spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev told Kommersant that it is difficult to say what happened to Grachev. “He might have slipped and fallen, and probably gotten all those bruises that doctors found on his body,” Gildeyev said.

According to Gazeta, the journalist’s briefcase with material for a coming issue of Solnechnogorsky Forum went missing from the attack scene. No other possessions were taken.

On Wednesday, CPJ sent a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urging him to address impunity in murders and violent attacks on independent and pro-opposition journalists that has tarnished the country’s press freedom record.

Violence against journalists has been on the rise in recent months. In November, independent editor Mikhail Beketov, who heavily criticized the local Khimki administration, was beaten nearly to death in his own yard. He is still hospitalized in serious condition in Moscow. In December, two unidentified assailants attacked and beat Zhanna Akbasheva, a local correspondent for the independent news agency Regnum, in the North Caucasus republic of Karachai-Cherkessiya. The same month, at least one unidentified assailant shot in the head and wounded Shafig Amrakhov, editor of the Murmansk-based online regional news agency RIA 51; he died in hospital a week later. Most recently, Anastasiya Baburova, a 25-year-old freelancer for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was shot and killed in broad daylight along with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, moments after the two left a press conference in downtown Moscow. Russian authorities are yet to make arrests in these attacks.

Valery Gribakin, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry, told the independent news agency Itar-Tass on Wednesday that most of journalists’ deaths in Russia are not work-related, but rather the result of private disputes.