Disabled reporter on trial in Russia despite attacks

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Russia went ahead Tuesday with the trial of an editor who was nearly beaten to death two years ago for writing about the same Moscow forest covered by another reporter brutally assaulted over the weekend.

The trial of Mikhail Beketov on slander charges came as Moscow scrambled to repair its image before outraged Russian media representatives and world governments.

President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed his vow to find all those responsible for Saturday's attack on Oleg Kashin while parliament suggested tough new changes to a law on crimes against those who work with the media.

But prosecutors still pressed charges Tuesday against Moscow area reporter Mikhail Beketov for slandering the mayor of Khimki -- a suburb which is home to a protected forest that officials want torn down in favour of a new motorway.

The 52-year-old sustained brain damage in the attack and has undergone a long series of operations that has left him without his lower leg and four fingers. He appeared in court barely able to speak.

Beketov faces the relatively symbolic fine of 3,000 rubles (100 dollars) but the assailants remain free.

"What happened to him is terrible. I can only on pass my sympathies," ITAR-TASS quoted Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko as saying during the trial.

The timing of the hearing appeared to clash with unprecedented Russian efforts to soothe tensions over its dismal record on human rights.

The deputy chairman of parliament's information policy committee presented the government with changes to a law that would sentence those convicted of seriously harming reporters to up to life in prison.

Deputy chairman Boris Resnik said he would introduce the amendments -- which equates the status of reporters to that of government officials -- to parliament following approval from Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Moscow authorities meanwhile took the rare step of allowing up to 200 demonstrators to gather in the capital's central Pushkin Square on Thursday to "demand that the president and the Russian law enforcement authorities" find Kashin's assailants.

He remained in an induced coma but NTV television said that doctors would try to bring him back to consciousness Wednesday. It appeared uncertain if the 30-year Kommersant business daily reporter would be allowed to speak to investigators once he comes round.

The incident has not only shocked Russia but Western rights groups and international organisations, ranging from the European Union to the OSCE.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the rights watchdog Amnesty International said the Russian government must reverse its past failures to find those responsible for ordering such attack.

The US State Department separately noted Monday that Russia had failed to identify or arrest the culprits of all but one of the eight murders of reporters officially reported last year.

"No one must be considered above the law in Russia. All of the perpetrators must answer before a court of law and be punished for these brutal crimes," the Committee to Protect Journalists' Europe and Central Asia Programme Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

Meanwhile another reporter, Zhukovskiye Vesti journalist Anatoly Adamchuk from the Moscow region who was assaulted over the weekend, was said to to be recuperating in hospital Tuesday in "moderately severe" condition.

© 2010 AFP

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