At the time this post is being written, Oleg Kashin, a journalist with the Russian newspaper Kommersant is lying in a Moscow hospital in a coma, the result of a savage beating outside of his apartment. Even though a number of high-profile journalists have been attacked, some murdered, in Russia during the past decade, Kashin's attack was particularly brazen; he was beaten with a metal rod and suffered numerous injuries to his head – including two broken jaws – a broken leg and fingers. Robbery appears not to have been the motive since his wallet and iPhone were left with Kashin (this MSNBC story includes security camera footage of the attack on Kashin).
And here's where on Law and Order they'd say that a pattern is emerging; Kashin was the third reporter beaten in such a manner. In November 2008 journalist Mikhail Beketov was assaulted outside of his home, and received a beating so severe it left him with brain damage and confined to a wheelchair; earlier this week a third journalist, Anatoly Adamchuk, was assaulted outside of the offices of his newspaper Zhukovskiye Vesti. Two threads link the three beatings – one, in each case along with a severe beating around the head, each journalist also had their hands smashed, in Beketov's case smashed so badly that several of his fingers had to be amputated; since journalists earn their living by typing – an act hard to do without the use of one's fingers – the beating of the hands sends a pretty clear message. The second common link is that prior to the beating each had written stories about historic, old-growth (and supposedly protected) forests being cut down for road-building projects, often involving well-connected land developers: in the case of Kashin and Beketov it was the Khimki Forest, a project recently suspended by President Dmitry Medvedev after some high-profile attention was cast on it by U2's Bono and Russian rock icon Yuri Shevchuk; in Adamchuk's case it was a similar project through the Tsagovsky Forest.
The inference most will likely draw is that in each case the journalists were attacked because of their writing about the controversial destruction of what should be protected public lands by people acting on behalf of the wealthy developers pushing the highway projects (road development is considered one of the most lucrative types of construction in Russia) either with the blessing of officials in the Kremlin or at least without the fear of angering them. Perhaps aware that this is the likely conclusion people will draw, Medvedev has pledged swift action and, according to Kommersant, has assigned “experts from the Prosecutor General's Office's Investigative Committee who have solved a number of high-profile cases” to the investigation. A bill was also introduced in the Duma that would grant journalists the same level of protection given to politicians, making an assault on them punishable by life in prison if the attack were grave enough. On the surface, both are strong actions aimed at getting justice for the victims and preventing future attacks, but Russia in the 21st century has a poor record of actually catching those who assault and kill journalists making all of the eventual arrests and punishments a moot point.
And just to add insult to injury, literally, this week Beketov was found guilty of slandering Khimki's Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko, who filed suit against Beketov for criticizing his administration for letting the Khimki Forest be clear-cut for the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway project. While the judge in the case was sympathetic to Beketov, who was physically unable to speak due to the injuries he sustained in the 2008 beating, he fined Beketov $160 for “tarnishing the honor and professional reputation” of Strelchenko, a fine he then waived on a technicality.
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