Reporters Without Borders welcomed the decision of a court in Khimki today, quashing a guilty verdict handed down a month ago against journalist Mikhail Beketov for defamation. The worldwide press freedom organisation said the decision cleared and rehabilitated the managing editor of Khimkiskaïa Pravda (Truth of Khimki).
The organisation pointed out that Beketov was sentenced to pay a fine of 5,000 roubles (116 euros) after being wrongly convicted of defamation when he was himself the victim of an extremely serious physical assault in 2008, the perpetrators of which have still not been traced.
The Russian authorities were, the newspaper Vedomosti said, due yesterday to announce the construction of a motorway going through Khimki forest which the journalist had strongly condemned.
Disabled editor found guilty of defaming mayor
A court in the Moscow satellite town of Khimki yesterday found local newspaper editor Mikhail Beketov guilty of defaming the town’s mayor, Vladimir Strelchenko, in May 2007, when he accused the mayor of “political terror” after his car was set on fire.
The court imposed a notional fine of 5,000 roubles (116 euros) but ruled that Beketov did not have to pay because of the time that has elapsed since the offence.
Reporters Without Borders nonetheless condemns this judicial harassment of a journalist who suffered irreversible brain damage and lost a leg and several fingers as a result of a brutal assault outside his home in November 2008. No one was ever arrested for the attack.
Injured Khimki journalist’s convalescence interrupted by defamation trial
Reporters Without Borders is outraged that journalist Mikhail Beketov’s convalescence is being interrupted because of a defamation suit brought by Vladimir Strelchenko, the mayor of the Moscow satellite town of Khimki, although Strelchenko himself has so far refused to appear in court to testify.
The editor of the local newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda, Beketov sustained lasting injuries when he was the target of an extremely brutal attack outside his Khimki home in 2008. The police recently closed their investigation into the attack without making any arrests.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the court to use the provisions of the Russian criminal code to issue an order forcing Strelchenko to testify. The press freedom organization also urges the authorities to allow Beketov to travel abroad during the trial to receive the treatment he needs.
Beketov often accused the local authorities of corruption and abusive behaviour, and campaigned against routing the proposed Moscow-St. Petersburg freeway through the nearby Khimki forest. Suspecting that local officials were to blame when his car was set on fire in May 2007, he accused Mayor Strelchenko of “political terror.”
It was this accusation that led Strelchenko to bring his defamation action against Beketov in August 2007. In the November 2008 attack, Beketov was beaten unconscious and left for dead. He spent weeks in and out of a coma afterward, and doctors had to amputate a leg and several fingers.
Although his condition is still worrying, Beketov went to the hearing on 21 October. Each trip to the court requires an ambulance and involves several doctors. As well as undermining his health, each visit costs him 6,000 roubles (140 euros).
Beketov needs specialised care that he can only obtain in a European clinic. The cost of each trip to the court during the trial is eating into the money he needs to pay for his transfer to the European clinic and his treatment there. He has meanwhile been banned from leaving the country until the trial is over. His relatives want the trial finished as soon as possible so that he can leave.
By refusing to testify and by sending his deputy to the 21 October hearing, Strelchenko has delayed the trial’s outcome. The next hearing has been scheduled for 9 November.
Front page photograph: Beketov Fond
Above photograph : Anna Artemeva