Russia: editor beaten
04 Feb 2009

russia-flagYet another journalist has been brutally attacked in Russia. Maria Eismont reports

Yuri Grachev, editor-in-chief of a local newspaper, was badly beaten on 3 February near his house in Solnechnogorsk, a town of 60,000 people some 65 km north-west of Moscow. He was sent to hospital unconscious with cuts on his face and severe concussion, but doctors say his life is not in danger.

Grachev, a 72-year-old retired colonel and local deputy, was publisher, editor and most likely the main if not the only journalist for the newspaper Solnechnogorskiy Forum. The paper has no website and is not even listed among local newspapers on the town’s main web resources, so in other circumstances this attack could have gone unnoticed.

But if the assailants were hoping not to cause a sensation, they’ve chosen the wrong time. The story of Mikhail Beketov, publisher and editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Khimkinskaya Prabvda, who was beaten nearly to death in November, continues to make national and international headlines. Not to mention the murders of Beketov’s lawyer Stanislav Markelov and young journalist Anastasiya Baburova from Novaya Gazeta in the centre of Moscow last month.

Moreover, the Solnechnogorsk attack happened just as Interior Ministry officials were declaring that the majority of murders of journalists are not related to their professional activity. ‘Most often these are domestic crimes. The percentage of journalists killed for their publications and investigations is relatively low,’ Valery Gribakin from the Russian Interior Ministry public relations department recently said.

Colleagues say Grachev’s paper was critical of the authorities, and exposed corruption. The next issue is due on 10 February, and is believed to carry more revelations ahead of March’s elections.

‘If we look at Grachev’s newspaper from the point of view of international journalism standards, we may find his stories not very objective,’ one local reporter told Index on Censorship. ‘But today opposition is itself a rare phenomenon, especially in towns like ours, and this is his main value. His newspaper is the only oppositional media in our region.’

Various observers agree that the attack was aimed at putting Grachev out of action at least until 1 March — election day for many Russian regions. It is hard to predict how those attacks against journalists will affect the electoral choices of local communities.

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