Moscow media rally tests Medvedev's liberal credentials

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

A few hundred reporters and bloggers were due to rally in central Moscow on Thursday in support of a social affairs writer whose beating is testing President Dmitry Medvedev's liberal resolve.

Moscow authorities took the rare step of allowing up to 200 people to assemble on the capital's coveted Pushkin Square -- just blocks from the Kremlin -- on behalf of Kommersant business daily correspondent Oleg Kashin.

The 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) demonstration was called by rights and media groups to "demand that the president and the Russian law enforcement authorities" find the 30-year-old's two assailants.

The early Saturday incident came amid a rash of similar attacks involving reporters who wrote about subjects similar to the prolific writer and blogger Kashin.

Suburban Moscow reporter Anatoly Adamchuk claimed to have been assaulted early Monday after penning articles about the same Khimki forest demolition project as Kashin.

The police responded this week by accusing Adamchuk of staging his own beating.

And Konstatin Fetisov -- an environmentalist who also fought the forest's removal in favor of a road -- reported being beaten last week.

Another journalist who wrote about controvercial forest demolition issues suffered brain damage in a violent incident that occurred as far back as 2008.

Mikhail Beketov was forced to appear in court this week on libel charges -- a bizarre case that prosecutors pursued despite the sensitive media environment in Russia.

The 52-year-old was delivered to court in a wheel chair and barely able to speak. He was provisionally fined 5,000 rubles (160 dollars) for slandering the Khimki mayor and sent back home in an special ambulance.

The police and legal action against Adamchuk and Beketov appear to contradict the president's commitment to punish all those responsible for the most famous case of all -- the one involving the Kommersant reporter Kashin.

Doctors put him in an induced coma and will only attempt to bring him back to consciousness when his body sufficiently heals.

The incident has sparked outrage both inside and outside Russia.

Brutal footage of Kashin's beating briefly dominated Russian state television broadcasts and was roundly condemned by most major Western capitals and human rights groups.

Medvedev has already made two extended official statements on Kashin and was forced to fend off a third line of questions during a press conference with his visiting Finnish counterpart Tarja Halonen on Tuesday.

"Whoever is involved in this crime will be punished, regardless of his position, place in society or accomplishments," Medvedev said in comments broadcast on state television throughout Monday evening.

The slate of cases provides Medvedev with a chance to sharpen his liberal credentials and distance himself from the more nationalist and police-friendly forces that prefer to rally around Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The former foreign intelligence agent Putin and Medvedev are the two major -- and perhaps only -- players of Russia's 2012 presidential election campaign.

Both have voiced interest in running. But both have also vowed not to face each other directly on the ballot.

This implies that the presidency will be decided in favor of whichever camp is able to generate the broadest support from Kremlin insiders in the coming months of the behind-the-scenes power battle.

Medvedev would likely need the heavy backing of liberal forces -- who could simply stay at home or otherwise keep quiet -- to get his campaign going.

© 2010 AFP

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