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Online journalist beaten in southern Siberia

New York, September 9, 2009Regional authorities must launch a thorough probe into a brazen attack on Mikhail Afanasyev, editor of the online magazine Novy Fokus, and examine whether his journalism was the motive, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At least two unidentified assailants beat Afanasyev around 3 p.m. today in Abakan, capital of the Republic of Khakassia in southern Siberia, according to a CPJ interview and multiple news reports. The attackers did not take any of the journalist’s belongings. Afanasyev was hospitalized today with a broken jaw and head injuries.

 

Last month, regional authorities opened a criminal investigation against Afanasyev on possible defamation charges after he and his two colleagues published a blog entry that challenged the Russian government’s response to the recent explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant in Khakassia. As part of that probe, Afanasyev told CPJ, Interior Ministry investigators took his mobile phone, computer, and apartment keys. In the face mounting public criticism, authorities announced in late August that they had dropped the case against Afanasyev.

 

Regional police have yet to open an investigation into today’s attack, according to local press reports.

 

“Regional authorities should promptly and thoroughly investigate the attack on our colleague Mikhail Afanasyev, look into his journalism as a possible motive, and bring his assailants to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “That a journalist whom authorities tried to prosecute for his reporting is now being attacked in broad daylight suggests official indifference or worse.”

 

Afanasyev told CPJ today that he was walking to a bus stop near his house when he heard someone running after him. He said one man knocked him to the ground; that assailant and a second one started beating him. Afanasyev said he was being treated at a local hospital in Abakan, and that police were guarding his room.

 

The journalist told the Moscow-based radio station Ekho Moskvy that when he was knocked to the ground one assailant asked, “Is that definitely him?” and the second replied, “Yes, definitely.” Afanasyev said he was able to get up after the assailants fled; he walked to a hotel nearby and asked for help. According to Ekho Moskvy, Afanasyev said he believes the attack was related to his reporting on the recent power plan explosion.

 

CPJ will release a report in Moscow next week detailing impunity in attacks on journalists.

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