Russian journalists demand action over assaults

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow


Hundreds of Russian journalists gathered in Moscow's famous Pushkin Square on Thursday night in a show of defiance, following the latest vicious attack on a prominent reporter.

Oleg Kashin, a well-known journalist with the national newspaper Kommersant, remains in intensive care after being attacked by two men early last Saturday morning.

CCTV footage of the incident, which can be seen on the internet, shows the men using a metal rod to systemically smash his leg, hands and jaw; an attack designed to maim him and prevent him from working again.

One of his fingers was cut off in the ferocious assault.

"We should all be here to show our solidarity," said a leading journalist, Mikhail Fishman, at the Moscow rally. "And to show that we are not afraid."

Sharp criticism

The organisers of the protest called on the authorities to question several men associated with youth groups backed by the Kremlin, which were created before the last presidential election in 2008 to face down opponents of the government.

Image caption,
Doctors put Mr Kashin into a drug-induced coma in intensive care

The groups have denied any involvement in the attack.

There were also calls for detectives to announce the main lines of their investigation within the next four weeks.

Mr Kashin, 30, had written many articles and blogs on sensitive issues and had been an outspoken critic of the government at all levels, exposing corruption and abuse of power.

Some of his withering criticism targeted specific officials.

He had also appeared on television as part of a campaign highlighting the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution.

Hunt for attackers

But the wave of revulsion and anger following the attack does seem to have prompted the government to respond.

"I'm confident that [Kashin's attackers] will be found, no matter who is behind it, right-wing, left-wing or centrist forces," said President Dmitry Medvedev, in a strong statement earlier this week.

And his words are now being repeated in different government offices, including the country's main investigation agency.

"Our best forces are now involved in the investigation, which is being supervised by the highest-ranking officials," said Vladimir Markin, spokesman of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor-General's Office.

In an unusually open interview with the BBC, Mr Markin also claimed that no-one was above the law in Russia.

"Here no-one is untouchable," he said. "A criminal will be punished no matter how big his wallet is or what position he holds."

If that were to be the case, it would be a remarkable turnaround.

To date there have been very few prosecutions of those responsible for attacking journalists.

Most of the hundreds of cases in recent years remain unresolved, including most notoriously, that of the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her apartment building in a contract killing four years ago.

Mikhail Fedotov, an adviser to President Medvedev on human rights issues, told a news conference this week that the men who assaulted Oleg Kashin "were clearly not hooligans, it was a contract attack".

Left for dead

Image caption,
Journalist Mikhail Beketov was brutally beaten and left brain-damaged in 2008

The style of attack was also very similar to that on Mikhail Beketov, a campaigning newspaper editor in Moscow who was almost killed two years ago.

He was also attacked outside his home by two men using an iron bar.

They also smashed his legs and hands and fractured his skull.

His right leg had to be amputated, he lost most of the fingers on his left hand and he remains severely brain-damaged.

He can no longer speak.

Sitting at his home on the outskirts of Moscow, the former paratrooper turned journalist is determined to try to walk once again.

In front of a group of journalists he stood up from his bed using a prosthetic leg and took a few faltering steps with the help of a walking frame.

He, like Oleg Kashin, had been very vocal on sensitive issues, including plans to build an $8bn (£5bn) motorway between Moscow and St Petersburg.

The route from the capital would go through an old forest in the northern suburbs which environmentalists are determined to protect - and that has led to a battle with the local authorities.

Two years after Mr Beketov was left for dead outside his house, no-one has been arrested.

Instead it is Mr Beketov who has been dragged through the courts, on charges of libelling the local mayor.

This week he was taken to court in an ambulance.

The mayor refused to drop the charges despite what has happened to Mr Beketov and on Wednesday the judge found him guilty.

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