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Russian journalist suffers savage attack

One of Russia’s star journalists has been beaten and is lying in an induced coma in a Moscow hospital. The attackers broke his jaw and fractured his skull and legs. They paid special attention to the hands he uses to write: one of his fingers has been amputated, the rest broken.

Oleg Kashin, age 30, was attacked and savagely beaten Friday night. Kashin writes for Kommersant, Russia’s leading newspaper. He is ironic and popular, part of a new generation of Russian journalists who approach life in the country with cynicism and wit, even as more and more of their numbers are beaten or killed in the line of duty.

The attack was caught on video. (Warning: this clip contains graphic images).

“It's clear that the people who did this did not like what he says and writes,” Kommersant editor Mikhail Mikhailin told the Echo Moskvy radio station. Prosecutors have opened the case as attempted murder (his attackers remain unknown) and President Dmitry Medvedev used his Twitter account (a social media Kashin used widely) to say “the criminals must be punished.”

At this point, it goes without saying that journalists in Russia operate in a climate of almost unrivalled danger for a country not actively at war. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. Countless more have been beaten.

Kashin focused his writing on Russia’s various protest movements — the liberal opposition, the Kremlin-approved youth groups. A snapshot from the website of the Young Guard, one of those youth groups, shows how Kashin was singled out for his reporting, in a post reading “Journalist-Traitors Must be Punished!”

He reported widely on the growing protest against a major road due to be built through the Khimki Forest in northern Moscow. Many local residents oppose the road, and have been gathering momentum for months, holding protests and garnering publicity for their opposition to it.

Another man who spoke out against the road was beaten to within an inch of his life on Thursday. Konstantin Fetisov, the Khimki representative for the Right Cause Party, was attacked by unknown men wielding baseball bats, about four hours after I spoke to him at length at a massive far-right protest. Fetisov spoke angrily about the Russian leadership, and said he was at the rally not for its neo-Nazi leanings but because he took any chance to attend a protest that opposed the current government. Fetisov is also lying in an induced coma.

One Khimki activist said the two attacks might be linked.

Kashin’s beating is horrific, and is garnering widespread coverage. Meanwhile, authorities haven’t even opened a criminal case into the attack on Fetisov.

And let’s not forget Mikhail Beketov, editor in chief of a Khimki newspaper that loudly opposed the road. He was nearly beaten to death late last year, left brain damaged and in a wheelchair, one leg amputated. As the New York Times reported in this impressive investigative report, “The police promised a thorough investigation, but barely looked up from their desks.”