Top Russian journalist in coma after attack: official

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Assailants on Saturday gravely wounded a leading journalist for Russian newspaper Kommersant in an attempted murder, the latest such attack in a country notorious for its media safety record, officials said.

The respected daily said in a statement that two attackers beat Oleg Kashin with a hard object outside his apartment block in central Moscow in the early hours of Saturday, forcing doctors to put him in an induced coma.

The investigative committee of prosecutors in a statement confirmed the circumstances of the attack and said a criminal probe had been opened into attempted murder.

"Kashin was seriously wounded and hospitalised. For the next few days, he will be in an artificial coma," Kommersant said.

The journalist received fractures to his lower and upper jaw and concussion, it said. Both his shins were broken and his fingers and skull were also wounded.

"It's clear that the people who did this did not like what he says and what he writes," Kommersant's chief editor Mikhail Mikhailin told Moscow Echo radio.

"What happened to him is linked to his professional activities," he added. "I will put pressure on the investigation so that this monstrous crime is solved."

Mikhailin noted that the attackers had not bothered to steal the telephone, money and documents that Kashin had on him at the time.

Meanwhile, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered Russia's prosecutor general Yury Chaika and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to take personal control of the investigation, the Kremlin said in a statement.

"The criminals must be punished," declared Medvedev in a statement on his Twitter feed.

The investigative committee of prosecutors said it was investigating several leads over the attack including a link to the "professional activities of Kashin".

Kashin, 30, specialises in writing about demonstrations, opposition meetings and the activities of youth groups for Kommersant and also covers the activities of Medvedev.

In recent months, he had been closely following demonstrations against the building of a highway through Khimki forest outside Moscow, which Medvedev has now put on hold pending a review, in a rare nod to popular pressure.

Kommersant is a broadsheet business and political daily and one of the country's most respected newspapers.

Journalists and activists following the Khimki highway controversy have in the past been targeted by attackers.

Konstantin Fetisov, head of the local branch of the opposition Right Cause party for Khimki, was beaten after attending a protest Thursday against the dumping of household waste in the area.

Local newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov, who had been highly critical of the local Khimki administration, was assaulted in November 2008, losing a leg and several fingers.

"So long as our journalists are beaten and intimidated we will neither have a lawful nor democratic state," Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the veteran campaigner who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, told the Interfax news agency.

Dozens of journalists have been beaten and even killed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most notably campaigning writer Anna Politkovskaya who was gunned down in her apartment building in 2006.

More than four years after her murder, no-one has been found guilty of the killing.

According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992 and the country ranks eighth on its impunity index for journalist killings.

The head of the Russian Union of Journalists, Mikhail Fedotov, told Moscow Echo that the latest attack shows that "there are still people in this country who will commit a crime to shut a journalist's mouth."

"We have to understand that an attack on a journalist due to his professional activities is an attack on all society."

© 2010 AFP

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