In further blow to journalists, beaten Russian reporter gets slander conviction
Russian reporter Mikhail Beketov, who lost a leg and three fingers to unidentified assailants in 2008, suffered one of many attacks connected to a controversial development project in Khimki Forest.
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"I cannot comprehend what's happening, it's beyond belief," says Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Defenders of the Khimki Forest. "Now with these beatings of Kashin and Fetisov, it seems like someone has been given a license to attack us with complete impunity," she says.Skip to next paragraph
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'A loud and clear message'
Though Wednesday's court judgement against Beketov – who accused Strelchenko of plotting to kill him in a 2007 TV interview – was fairly mild, the symbolism is unbearable, she adds.
"It's just like they're spitting in the face of public opinion. Beketov is a destroyed human being, an invalid, and yet they hauled him into court," after Strelchenko refused to withdraw his suit, Ms. Chirikova says. "It's out of human understanding. I don't know how to live with this."
Strelchenko's press spokesperson, Valentina Skobeleva, says the Khimki mayor was attending ceremonies in honor of national "Police Day" Wednesday, and would be unavailable for comment.
Sergei Strokan, a columnist with Kommersant, says that although Khimki appears to be the epicenter of much of the recent violence, it sends a loud and clear message to everyone.
"There is no way to protect yourself. The only thing you can do is take care not to cross certain red lines," he says. "That leads to self-censorship. When any journalist goes to his computer, he knows he should execute his duty. But he's also a human being, and he's entitled to be afraid. So, every time, there's a hard choice to make."
Will Medvedev come to the rescue?
The fight over Khimki Forest achieved national prominence last summer when President Dmitry Medvedev, responding to a large Moscow rally in support of the environmentalists, ordered the suspension of the road construction plan that had been approved by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Medvedev has vowed to make catching Kashin's attackers a top priority, but activists point out that he has made such promises before without much visible result.
Mr. Simonov, whose organization tracks attacks on journalists, says the present spotlight on the issue is mainly because the recent wave of assaults have occurred in and around Moscow.
"Five other serious beatings of journalists have taken place in the past week, mostly in small provincial cities, and almost nobody notices," he says. "It happens on a daily basis."
A member of the Kremlin's in-house human rights committee, Simonov says he personally gave Medvedev a list of 12 serious cases of attacks against journalists a year ago, but nothing came of it.
"Medvedev's people say he has priorities like fixing the economy, and he'll get to this," Simonov says. "From time to time he sends a signal that he is beginning to understand that you can't modernize the country while these sorts of barbarous things are going on. Maybe he's starting to get it, I don't know."