Russian journalist beaten in Saratov, second from same site in five months

New York, January 14, 2015–An independent journalist was attacked on Tuesday in the Russian city of Saratov, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the assault and calls on authorities to investigate and to consider journalism a motive in the crime.

Two unidentified men attacked Sergei Vilkov, a reporter with the independent regional news website Obshchestvennoye Mneniye (Public Opinion), at around 6 p.m. near his home in Saratov, local and international press reported. The assailants punched Vilkov in the face repeatedly and beat him, according to the Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy. Vilkov suffered a broken nose and a concussion, reports said. He was not hospitalized.

The journalist told regional media he had seen his assailants following him in the days leading up to the attack. He said he reported the attack immediately to the police. He said the assailants did not rob him and that he believed he had been attacked in relation to his work.

Vilkov investigates and reports on government corruption, business and land-acquisition deals, and organized crime in the Saratov region, according to Obshchestvennoye Mneniye.

Police launched an investigation into the attack and classified it as hooliganism, news reports said.

In a statement published today called “We do not believe in coincidences!”, Obshchestvennoye Mneniye questioned hooliganism as a motive and said the attack on Vilkov was the second physical assault on one of its journalists since August. The editorial said its staff reporter, Aleksandr Krutov, was attacked near his home on August 26, 2014, and was hospitalized with a concussion and bruises.

Obshchestvennoye Mneniye said that authorities had also classified the attack on Krutov as hooliganism and had failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. According to the website, Krutov had also said he was followed by individuals prior to being attacked. Krutov covered the same topics as Vilkov, the website said.

“We are alarmed by the brutal attack on Sergei Vilkov–the second reporter with Obshchestvennoye Mneniye assaulted in a few months,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Given the sensitive subjects that Vilkov covered for the website, it is premature for officials to rule out journalism as the motive for the attack. We call on authorities in Saratov to carry out a thorough, effective investigation, lest impunity in these attacks stifle independent journalism in the region.”