BBC team under attack in southern Russia

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media captionSteve Rosenberg reports: ''Someone clearly did not want our material broadcast''

A BBC team has been attacked in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan.

The team's cameraman was beaten up and the camera smashed during the attack. The recorded material left in the car had been deleted, the team found after returning from the police station.

The BBC has lodged a formal protest with Russia over the incident and called for an investigation.

The authorities in Astrakhan have launched a criminal case into the attack, Russia's Interfax news agency reports.

Memory cards wiped

The team had just left a cafe in the town when at least three aggressive individuals approached our car, confronting and attacking us, says BBC Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg.

Using physical violence the men grabbed the camera, smashed it on the road, and then escaped with it in a getaway car.

During the scuffle the BBC cameraman was knocked to the ground and beaten.

The team is now safe and back in Moscow.

Following the attack, the team spent more than four hours being questioned at a local police station.

During that time, the recording equipment left behind in the car was tampered with, our correspondent says.

The hard drive of the main computer as well as several memory cards with video material had been wiped clean.

Interfax quoted the head of the Astrakhan Region interior ministry's press office Petr Rusanov as saying "a criminal case" had been launched after police had received a report of an attack on a cameraman who had been "beaten and robbed by unidentified persons".

The BBC said it deplored the act of violence, which it described as "part of a co-ordinated attempt to stop accredited news journalists reporting a legitimate news story".

It has called on the Russian authorities to condemn the assault and launch a "thorough investigation".

An official with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the attack was "utterly and totally unacceptable".

"What we are witnessing is a clear sign of harassment of free media in Russia," added the OSCE's representative on media freedom, Dunja Mijatovic.

media captionAccording to Dunja Mijatovic, from the OSCE, journalists in Russia are being targeted when going after "certain stories"