Attacks On Journalists Spark Concern In Russia

A series of brutal attacks on journalists in Russia has sparked both local and international concern. A political reporter for a national newspaper was beaten in Moscow over the weekend, and is now in a coma in a hospital; and a second reporter, this time working for a suburban newspaper, was badly beaten up on Monday. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for those responsible to be exposed and punished; while the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it was time the Russian authorities took action to stop the attacks.

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In Russia, three journalists have been violently beaten over the past few days. First came an attack in southern Russia, and then two journalists were attacked in the Moscow area. One is recovering from a concussion, the other remains in a coma.

Both those men were covering a politically charged plan to build a highway north of Moscow, as NPR's David Greene reports.

DAVID GREENE: On a dark Moscow street tonight, Antone Chiernin(ph) was doing his hour-long rotation. He and fellow journalists have been keeping a vigil going outside Moscow police headquarters, demanding justice.

Mr. ANTONE CHIERNIN (Journalist): From 8:00 in the morning until 11:00 in the evening.

GREENE: Chiernin covers the music industry for a Moscow radio station and he spoke about the beatings the last few days with an eerie sense of calm. It's a sad reality for Russian journalists, he said. Cover a sensitive issue and you're a target. The only choice is whether to let the fear get to you.

Mr. CHIERNIN: So, you might become a cloud(ph). Or you might live as you live.

GREENE: His friend, Oleg Kashin, was opting for the latter when he arrived home late Friday night and was savagely beaten. A surveillance video apparently showing the attack, has been prominent in Russian news coverage. Kashin's leg and jaw were broken and he lost the tip of one of his fingers. Kashin remains unconscious, but doctors are hopeful he'll recover.

Kashin is a political reporter for Kommersant, a respected mainstream newspaper. His editor, Mikhail Mikhailin, said Kashin's mangled fingers are proof someone didn't like his writing.

Mr. MIKHAIL MIKHAILIN (Editor, Kommersant): (Speaking Russian)

GREENE: It's not like war has just been declared on journalists, the editor said on a Russian radio station, we were already made part of this war. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is the eighth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Thirty-two have been murdered since 1992 and 19 murders since 2000 are still unresolved.

As for why Kashin was attacked, there are plenty of theories. One is that he covered a highway project that would cut through the Khimki Forest north of Moscow. People with money in the project have political clout and they don't like when environmentalists or investigative reporting stand in their way.

This theory behind Kashin's beating gained new credence yesterday when a suburban reporter named Anatoly Adamchuk, who also covers the forest debate, was attacked and hospitalized. Then news reached Moscow today of a separate third incident - an editor in the city of Saratov, beaten by two young men Friday as he left a store.

(Soundbite of news broadcast)

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Speaking Russian)

GREENE: In the past, the Kremlin and government-friendly news networks have brushed aside incidents like this. But Kashin's attack has been all over the news. And President Dmitry Medvedev suggested someone had it out for Kashin because of his profession.

Pres. MEDVEDEV (through translator): The style of the attack, it's not the way wallets usually get stolen. This was targeted action. The people involved must be exposed and punished.

GREENE: Outside the police station tonight, journalist Antone Chiernin said he's willing to give the Kremlin a chance to show its interest is sincere.

Do you think journalists are scared right now to cover hard issues?

Mr. CHIERNIN: No. No. I think no, because you know, something is changing. Something is changing.

GREENE: David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.

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