MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian journalist died on Wednesday after being beaten in police custody, authorities and colleagues said, deepening concern about police abuses after a string of scandals involving violence and corruption.
Journalists in the Siberian city of Tomsk, some 3,100 km (1,900 miles) east of Moscow, said Konstantin Popov, 47, was also tortured by his assailant. They also called for the dismissal of top regional police officials.
The federal Investigative Committee, which did not identify the victim except by age, said he was hospitalized on January 4 with severe injuries to internal organs after being beaten by an officer in a police holding cell for drunks.
He died without emerging from a coma, the committee said.
The chairman of the Tomsk branch of the Union of Journalists of Russia, Alexei Sevastyanov, said Popov was violated with an object he would not identify. “He was tortured,” he said.
The alleged assailant, police officer Alexei Mitayev, 26, was charged with aggravated assault and abuse of authority, the committee said. Mitayev admitted to the beating, citing stress, media said. He has been dismissed from the police force.
Popov was a co-founder of regional newspaper publisher and magazine, Tema. Its editor-in-chief Konstantin Karpachyov said it was unlikely Popov was killed because of his work.
“This could happen to absolutely anyone,” Karpachyov said. “It demonstrates the police terror is aimed against everybody.”
In an unusual outcry by the Russian media, which Kremlin critics say panders to the authorities, journalists on Wednesday condemned police and a Moscow court which fined a photographer for taking part in an unsanctioned opposition protest.
State-run RIA Novosti news agency denied its photographer, Andrei Stenin, took part in the protest and said he there was “on assignment”.
The court could not be contacted for comment on Wednesday.
More than 20 Russian editors, from state-run television channels, to popular daily newspapers, signed a petition asking Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to check the behavior of the police who detained Stenin, news site newsru.com said.
“Hands off journalists!”, the non-governmental Union of Journalists said in a statement on its website.
Since 2000, at least 17 Russian journalists have been killed due to their work, and the killers have been convicted in only one case, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Recent outbursts of police violence, from drunken shooting sprees to bludgeoning a man to death, have added to widely negative perceptions of law enforcement officers in Russia, fueled by mounting evidence of corruption.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last month police misconduct was sparking public anger and undermining the state’s authority. He called for serious reform and ordered the 1.4 million-strong Interior Ministry staff cut by one-fifth by 2012.
Additional reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Jon Hemming