Russian outrage over new attack on journalist

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The Independent Online

The Russian authorities yesterday faced demands to prosecute the attackers of a journalist branded a "traitor" by a youth organisation linked to the country's ruling party.

Oleg Kashin, 30, a reporter for the Kommersant daily, was set upon by two unknown assailants late on Friday. They apparently waited for him with a bunch of flowers outside the doorway of his apartment block in Moscow.

Mr Kashin, who covered youth political movements for the newspaper and was one of its best-known reporters, was beaten, leaving him with a broken leg and jaw and a fractured skull. He remained in an induced coma in a hospital in Moscow yesterday.

In the most chilling part of the attack, Mr Kashin had all his fingers broken, with part of one finger being detached – a message that gave extra suspicion that the attack was linked to his journalism.

"It's obvious that the people who did this did not like what he was saying and what he was writing," said Kommersant's editor, Mikhail Mikhailin. He added: "To make their pointthey broke the fingers of a journalist."

Dozens of journalists and activists gathered yesterday outside Moscow's police headquarters, collecting signatures for a petition to be delivered to President Dmitry Medvedev, and calling on authorities to solve the crime.

Mr Medvedev wrote in a message on his Twitter feed that the perpetrators of this attack should be "found and punished", though similar entreaties in previous cases have come to nothing. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 murders of journalists have gone unsolved since 2000, including that of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006.

The Russian blogosphere has been alive with speculation as to what might have been behind the attack. Unlike Ms Politkovskaya, who uncovered rights abuses and torture in Chechnya, or other murdered journalists who probed murky business dealings, Mr Kashin was not an obvious target for such an attack. Originating from the Baltic port city of Kaliningrad, he has written for a number of Russian newspapers, and was also an active blogger.

Young Guard, the youth wing of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, was outraged over an interview with an opposition activist by Mr Kashin in August. It ran a comment on its website naming Mr Kashin as a traitor to his country, and published a photograph of him with the words "Will be punished!" stamped over it.

After this weekend's attack, Young Guard distanced itself from the comments; the photograph was removed from the site and a preamble was added to the article that read as though the group might be worried it had provoked extreme elements into the attack: "There is civilised political battle, and there is cold-blooded criminality ... We call on everyone to understand that."

The apparent professionalism of the attack suggests it was not simply the work of hot-headed youth activists who had got out of control. Many speculated that the attack might be linked to Mr Kashin's articles about a toxic dispute that has played out over the past months in Russia, over the construction of a new road through a forest in Khimki, north of Moscow.

Earlier this year, famous musicians joined the protest and in a victory for public activism, President Medvedev halted construction of the road, which had been backed by Moscow's mayor, Yury Luzhkov, who was later fired.

Evgeniya Chirikova, leader of the Khimki protest movement, said she had no hope that the crime would be solved, pointing to an attack two years ago on Mikhail Beketov, editor of a newspaper in Khimki. Mr Beketov spent months in hospital and had one of his legs amputated. Nobody has been brought to trial for the attack.

Another Khimki activist, Konstantin Fetisov, was also being treated in hospital on Friday after being attacked with a baseball bat.

"These attacks are now seen as something normal," said Ms Chirikova. "But it's not normal when attacks on activists and journalists aren't investigated, and when they remain unpunished."