Mikhail Beketov, 55, the former editor of the independent newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, died in a Moscow hospital from heart failure stemming from a choking episode during lunch, Elena Kostyuchenko, Beketov's friend and a reporter for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta, told CPJ by phone.
The choking incident was directly related to a November 2008 assault on Beketov, which left him in a coma for several months, according to Kostyuchenko and news reports. When he was in the coma, surgeons maintained his breathing by inserting a tube during a tracheotomy. Kostyuchenko said the combination of the deep tracheal scars and the food led to him choking, which blocked airflow to his lungs and in turn led to heart failure.
In November 2008, neighbors had found Beketov lying in his front yard in Khimki, more than 24 hours after unidentified assailants crushed his skull, broke his legs, smashed both hands, and left him to die in the cold. Physicians removed part of Beketov's brain after the attack, and amputated a leg as well as some fingers, according to news reports. The journalist regularly visited the hospital for checkups.
Prior to the attack, Beketov had publicly accused Vladimir Strelchenko, then the mayor of Khimki, of nepotism and corruption and had heavily criticized his administration's decision to replace parts of a local forest with a freeway.
Yevgeniya Chirikova, a local environmental activist and contributor to Khimkinskaya Pravda, told CPJ that Beketov had received multiple threats in connection to his work. She said that unknown men had approached and told him, "You're due for a hit." In May 2007, unknown attackers firebombed Beketov's car, and killed his dog, Chirikova told CPJ.
Authorities, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, promised to bring his attackers to justice but investigators failed to name or arrest anyone in connection with the assault. Instead, two years after the attack, the journalist was convicted of libel in connection with a lawsuit filed by Strelchenko. He was ordered to pay 5,000 rubles in damages to the former mayor. A higher court later overturned the verdict.