Russia reopens investigation into Beketov attack

New York, November 11, 2010–Russia’s top investigator, Aleksandr Bastrykin, today ordered the reopening of a probe into a near-lethal November 2008 attack on Mikhail Beketov, editor of the independent newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda. Bastrykin’s order comes a day after a court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki convicted Beketov of criminally slandering local mayor Vladimir Strelchenko. The conviction, coming at a time when Beketov’s assailants are walking free, drew international condemnation.

“We commend today’s decision by Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksandr Bastrykin to reopen the probe into the barbaric attack against our colleague Mikhail Beketov, which has left him unable to walk and speak,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Moscow detectives to carry out a thorough, fair investigation into all leads.”

In November 2008, unidentified assailants crushed the editor’s skull, broke his legs, smashed both hands, and left him to die in the freezing cold. Neighbors found him more than 24 hours later, according to doctors, lying in his front yard in Khimki. He underwent multiple surgeries, had a leg and several fingers amputated, and lost the ability to speak. The official probe into the attack was suspended in September 2010 for what investigators said was “a lack of suspects.”

On Wednesday, a magistrate court in Khimki convicted Beketov of defaming Strelchenko in a 2007 interview with the private Moscow station Ren-TV. In the interview, Beketov accused the mayor of setting his car on fire. Beketov had opposed a controversial plan to build a highway through a Khimki forest and had criticized Strelchenko for alleged nepotism and corruption.

The conviction of Beketov, who had to be wheeled into the courtroom, drew international outcry. CPJ Board Member Kati Marton, who led an advocacy mission to Russia in September and visited Beketov in a Moscow hospital, called on Strelchenko to drop what she called a cruel and unwarranted complaint.