Russian editor hospitalized, police refuse to investigate

New York, May 5, 2009–Authorities in Rostov-on-Don must launch a criminal investigation into a possible attack on the editor-in-chief of an independent newspaper who was found unconscious with a head wound in the early morning of April 30

Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, editor of Korruptsiya i Prestupnost (Corruption and Crime), was found at the foot of a staircase in his building’s entryway, according to multiple news reports and CPJ sources. He was hospitalized with skull and brain trauma; doctors performed two surgeries and the editor spent five days in a coma, his deputy, Sergei Sleptsov, told CPJ. Yaroshenko was taken off a respirator today, but he remains unconscious, Sleptsov said.

Sleptsov told CPJ he believes Yaroshenko was attacked in retaliation for his newspaper’s work. Korruptsiya i Prestupnost reports on the corruption of Rostov law enforcement agencies. Immediately after the editor was hospitalized, police said he was injured in a fistfight on a local street at around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Grigory Bochkaryov, Rostov correspondent for the Russian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, told CPJ. Bochkaryov said police later stated that Yaroshenko came home drunk and injured himself by falling down the stairs in the entrance of his apartment building.

On Monday, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported that a spokesman for the Rostov Region Department of Internal Affairs said police were not looking into the possibility that Yaroshenko was attacked. “The trauma sustained by the journalist exhibits an exclusively domestic character,” an unnamed spokesman at the department’s press office told RIA Novosti.

“We are disturbed by the high number of critical journalists attacked and injured in Russia in what law enforcement calls ‘accidents,’ ” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “The conflicting accounts provided by local authorities in Vyacheslav Yaroshenko’s case reinforce our skepticism. Federal authorities should launch an independent investigation into the case.”

In 2007, when Sleptsov published a critical story on the local authorities releasing an alleged criminal who had been charged with kidnapping and robbery, he was attacked and hospitalized, he said. Police only contacted him four days after the incident to take his testimony; Sleptsov’s attackers are still at large. 

Sleptsov said Korruptsiya i Prestupnost had recently published a number of articles on alleged corruption in the Rostov regional government, police, and the prosecutor’s office. The paper has launched its own investigation into the attack, he said.

CPJ has confirmed an increasing number of physical attacks on journalists in Russia in the past year. In November 2008, independent editor Mikhail Beketov, who heavily criticized the local Khimki administration, was beaten nearly to death in his own yard. In December 2008, two assailants attacked Zhanna Akbasheva, a local correspondent for the independent news agency Regnum, in the North Caucasus republic of Karachai-Cherkessiya. That 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 a week later.

In January, Anastasiya Baburova, a freelancer for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was shot and killed in broad daylight along with human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov in downtown Moscow. On February 3, neighbors found Yuri Grachev, editor of pro-opposition weekly Solnechnogorsky Forum in Moscow Region, lying unconscious in the entrance of his apartment building; an initial statement from authorities said the injuries might be the result of a fall. In March, Vadim Rogozhin, managing director of the independent media holding company Vzglyad in the southern city of Saratov, was attacked by two assailants who struck him on the head; he remains hospitalized. And three unidentified assailants beat Maksim Zolotarev, editor of the independent newspaper Molva Yuzhnoye Podmoskovye in Moscow Region. Authorities have yet to solve any of these crimes.