progress is often followed by heartbreak. So it was on the day after our
meeting with Russia's top
investigator, when we hit the wall of Russia's dysfunctional criminal justice
On a drizzly Moscow
afternoon, we gathered outside the hospital where Mikhail
Beketov, former editor of the newspaper Khimkinskaya
Pravda, is still recovering two years after a near-fatal beating. The thugs
who attacked him surely did not expect him to survive. For one thing, they wore
no masks when they attacked him in broad daylight. They smashed his skull,
broke both of his legs, pulverized his hands and left him to die in the
freezing cold. By some miracle, Beketov did survive. He is--or was--a powerfully
built fighter, whose iron will seems intact as he fights now to recover. We
talked to his doctor, who called his attackers "scum."
At the time of the attack, Beketov was reporting on a
proposed highway that would have destroyed a beloved forest in Khimki, a town
Remarkably, the reporter's courage was rewarded with success. President Dmitri Medvedev
suspended the road project because of the outcry that Beketov helped raise.
But the human cost of this is heartbreaking. Beketov lost
the use of his voice and has had a leg and several fingers amputated as a
result of the beating he suffered. Once burly, he is now a slight figure in a wheelchair.
Beketov's case is really a metaphor for what is best and
worst in today's Russia.
Best because public outcry stopped the highway construction. Worst because of
the presence of thugs and killers, who will stop at nothing to silence brave
truth-tellers and too often get away with their crimes.
We were deeply moved by the friends and neighbors, including
Lyudmila Fedotova and her husband, Yuri, who have taken responsibility for
Beketov's care. Beketov himself was in excellent spirits. He smiled and stroked
my hand. He cannot talk, but he understands everything. His friends said he
still plays chess.
Fedotova and her colleagues have acquired a prosthetic leg,
but it will take extensive rehabilitation for Beketov to be able to walk again.
Regardless, he will require care for the rest of his life. I made a solemn
promise to Beketov that CPJ will see to it that he has the care he needs.
This was CPJ's third mission to Moscow in as many years and, in general, we
are pleased with what we have achieved. This time, we had by far our best
access ever; the entire criminal investigative committee and its head,
Aleksandr Bastrykin, gave us pretty much all the time we wanted. Unlike in the
past, they did not quarrel with us about the list of murdered of journalists
whose cases we presented to them. It seemed as if they were eager to impress us
with the fact that they were seriously investigating and open to new leads. Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova gave investigators details on prominent
murder cases, including the killing of Novaya
Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya
Russia Editor Paul Klebnikov.
The Americans also rolled out the red carpet for us in big
way. We were the guests of honor at a reception at the elegant Spaso House. Getting
there was NOT half the fun. Moscow
goes into what locals call "traffik collaps," which means that the city turns
into a parking lot at the first drop of rain. So our delegation, which included
CPJ Chairman Paul Steiger, Executive Director Joel Simon and Senior Advisor
Jean-Paul Marthoz, ditched our car and driver and got into the nearest subway.
It turned out we needed three different trains to get to the reception, and we
arrived soaking wet and exhausted. (I was still jet lagged since I'd flown in
from New York
the day before).
Ambassador John Beyrle gave a rousing speech about the role
of free press and CPJ's contribution. He tossed the mic to me and I did not
pass up the opportunity to preach to a large gathering of journalists,
diplomats and other colleagues.
But days after our meeting with Beketov, I cannot get the
sound of his voice--a plaintive cry, unlike anything I've ever heard, and for
now the only sound he can produce--out of my head.