Russian leader vows to punish reporter's assailants

8th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev bowed to unprecedented media pressure on Monday by promising to punish those behind the latest assault on a reporter -- no matter their potential rank or title.

Medvedev's unusual pronouncement came as a grainy 90-second clip of what appeared to be the beating of Kommersant business daily journalist Oleg Kashin swept through the Russian Internet and even made it on state TV news.

The savage attack on Kashin has generated an unprecedented wave of solidarity between the state and opposition media. And it only seemed compounded by news of two other less violent attacks on journalists over the extended holiday weekend.

Medvedev took the unusual step not only of responding instantly to the assault on Kashin but even reacting to speculation that investigators may sweep the case under the rug like many similar ones before it.

"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 the evening.

The Russian leader -- seen as more sympathetic to media and other rights issues than his predecessor Vladimir Putin -- admitted the case had overwhelming political undertones and would not be treated as a common crime.

"I have seen it written in the press that (the people behind the crime) will not be found. They will be found. There is no doubt."

Medvedev added that assaults on reporters must be treated with extra care by society and not be grouped with other crimes.

"Reporters are people who find themselves in an area of heightened risk," he said.

The Kremlin and the state-controlled media have a history of dismissing such incidents and even pinning some of the blame on reporters who dig into issues that might conflict with state concerns.

But the latest events appear to have shaken the nation into a reexamination of where media freedoms stand some two decades after the Soviet Union's collapse.

And they have given Medvedev a chance to distance himself further from the more nationalist Russian forces in the run-up to the nation's 2012 presidential election campaign.

The Kremlin chief was responding to an open letter in which media leaders described the media situation as dire and dangerous to society's health.

"The rights of reporters to fulfill their obligation in a normal fashion and not worry about their lives -- this is the right of society to speak and be heard."

The letter was signed by 26 reporters and editors from media outlets as varied as Moscow Echo radio and the Russian edition of Rolling Stone.

Doctors had put Kashin in an induced coma and refused Monday to speculate about his future health.

"His problems are serious, so we are not going to make any forecasts for now," chief hospital doctor Dmitry Semyonov was quoted as saying by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

The Internet video showed two assailants converge on a man as he approached a gate to a residential building at night and felling him to the ground. One then held him by the upper body while the other beat him with what television said was a lead pipe.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, called the attack "brutal" and "obviously unacceptable."

The media freedom representative of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Dunja Mijatovic, said the assault "confirms a worrying trend of continuous violence against journalists" in Russia.

The Russian state investigative committee linked the beating to either Kashin's writing or the "civic position" he adopted on the various Internet blogs.

His colleagues in Kommersant suggested that politics was at issue in either case.

The business daily wrote Monday that Kashin was recently made into a formal enemy by a pro-Kremlin youth group linked to the ruling United Russia party.

The Molodaya Gvardia (The Young Guards) organization on August 11 reportedly posted a short-list of reporters it planned to "punish". The list ran under a photograph of Kashin -- whom it identified along with the others as "media saboteurs."

Two more journalists meanwhile were reported beaten on Monday: one a reporter with the Zhukovskiye Vesti suburban Moscow weekly and another the editor of the Volga region's Saratovsky Reporter.

Neither money nor other valuables were stolen in either incident. But the suburban Moscow reporter was stripped of his computer memory card.

© 2010 AFP

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