KHIMKI, Russia (Reuters) - A Russian reporter who is in a coma after a savage beating told the authorities a week ago he had received threats to his life because of his investigative reporting, a friend told Reuters Tuesday.
Press freedom campaigners say Mikhail Beketov, editor of a local newspaper just outside Moscow, is the latest in a series of reporters to suffer for daring to challenge officialdom.
Beketov is in Moscow’s main intensive care unit with pieces of his skull imbedded in his brain. Doctors have amputated his leg and a breathing machine is keeping him alive.
Beketov, 50, was found unconscious on November 13 in a pool of blood in the front garden of his house in Khimki, just outside Moscow city limits.
Doctors believe Beketov, whose newspaper wrote exposes on corruption and campaigned on environmental issues, was beaten with metal poles and that he may have lain in his garden for at least a day.
“He told us about a week before he was attacked that he had been informed that an order to kill him had been taken out,” Lyudmila Fedotova, a close friend, said, adding that he had written a letter about his concerns to Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the FSB.
“This is all connected in my opinion with his professional activities,” she said. “Mikhail was not afraid of anyone or anything — and that is probably why he has suffered so much.”
Beketov’s supporters say he made enemies by campaigning against a plan to build a highway between Moscow and St Petersburg through a forest on the outskirts of Khimki.
He also wrote about official corruption and his latest story delved into debt operations by the local authority.
“Mikhail Vasilyevich (Beketov) always had questions that were very delicate and very tricky for a lot of people,” his partner Svetlana Kuryshkina told Reuters.
“He was never afraid of entering the fray,” she said.
“I don’t know who could have done this but one thing is clear: he was the object of the attack as nothing was taken from the house or from the car.”
Both Fedotova and Kuryshkina say earlier this year someone had set fire to Beketov’s car, an attack they interpreted as a warning to him over articles in his newspaper, Khimskaya Pravda.
A spokeswoman for the local administration declined to comment on the beating and refused to answer questions about Beketov. She said only that what happened to him was a tragedy.
Journalists in Russia risk beatings and even death if they delve into the murky world where politics and business overlap.
Russia is ranked as the world’s third most dangerous place for reporters by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which lists 49 journalists killed in Russia since 1992. Only Iraq and Algeria had more.
“Impunity is rampant in Russia when it comes to murders of journalists and attacks on journalists,” said Nina Ognianova, CPJ’s program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia.
“The most dangerous subjects for journalists in Russia are corruption, getting on the path of big money, human rights abuses and covering Chechnya and the volatile North Caucasus.”
Anna Politkovskaya, who was critical of the Kremlin’s war in Chechnya, was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment on Oct 7, 2006.
Paul Klebnikov, editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was shot outside his office on July 9, 2004. In both cases, no convictions have so far been made.
Editing by Janet Lawrence