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Outcry Mounts As Russian Governor Accused In Journalist's Beating

  • Tom Balmforth

Russian investigative journalist Oleg Kashin is seen in December 2010 at a Moscow hospital after he was beaten.

Russian investigative journalist Oleg Kashin is seen in December 2010 at a Moscow hospital after he was beaten.

MOSCOW -- Several prominent Russian cultural figures are boycotting a literature festival backed by Pskov Oblast Governor Andrei Turchak, part of an outcry over allegations that the regional leader was behind a near-fatal attack on journalist Oleg Kashin in 2010.

Anger erupted on September 16 after the daily Kommersant published an interview with Yelena Vesyolova, the wife of one of three men charged over the attack on Kashin, in which she directly accused Turchak of ordering the assault and said she had an audio recording to prove it.

Turchak has not responded to the allegations.

Kashin, at the time a special correspondent for Kommersant, was brutally beaten by two men armed with metal rods in November 2010, in an attack that highlighted the risks faced by journalists who investigate corruption and mismanagement by the Russian authorities.

The Kommersant interview published on September 16, in which Vesyolova said Turchak ordered her husband to beat up Kashin "so that he can no longer write," prompted poets Sergei Gandlevsky, Aleksei Tsvetkov, and Polina Barskova to join a boycott of Dovlatov Fest.

Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak

Pskov Governor Andrei Turchak

Andrei Kolesnikov, the editor in chief of the magazine Russky Pioner, earlier on September 7 cited allegations against Turchak as the reason his staff would skip the September 17-19 festival named after Soviet emigre writer Sergei Dovlatov.

The annual Dovlatov Fest is financed in part by the Pskov Oblast administration and the Ministry of Culture, and is a pet project of Turchak, according to the cultural figures.

Social networks have been flooded with angry commentary from prominent figures like Aleksandr Vinokurov, owner of the cable and Internet channel Dozhd TV, who wrote on Twitter: "Why is Andrei Turchak still working as governor? Why hasn't he been arrested? Why isn't he in the dock?"

President Vladimir Putin has sought to steer clear of the scandal. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that "this is a question for investigators" and that the Kremlin would not interfere.

The boycott appeared to gather momentum early on September 17 when Mikhail Seslavinsky, head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications, or Rospechat, issued a statement saying he had canceled a planned visit to the festival, where he was to deliver a lecture, because he did not want to appear to giving "moral support to the Pskov Oblast leadership."

Seslavinsky, however, later said the statement had been "incorrectly" issued by his press office, and that he would be absent because he is "on holiday" and that his deputy would attend the event in his place.

The attack in 2010 left Kashin with two broken legs, mangled fingers, a damaged skull, and multiple jaw fractures. Kashin underwent several operations and was kept in a coma during part of his time in hospital.

Then-President Dmitry Medvedev promised to take the investigation under his personal supervision. There appeared to have been little progress until September 7, when Kashin published an article on his website alleging three men had been charged with the attack.

He named them as Danila Vesyolov, Vyacheslav Borisov, and Mikhail Kavtaskin -- all security guards for a St. Petersburg factory. He alleged that their boss, a man named Aleksandr Gorbunov, had hired the three men for the attack.

On September 11, Gorbunov was released from pretrial detention on an unrelated charge of weapons possession, sparking fears that he would flee the country and that investigators were trying to protect people higher up the chain.

Commenting on the interview with Vesyolov's wife, influential blogger Andrei Malgin wrote: "To all appearances, investigators have long had the recording of Turchak ordering the beating of Kashin to 'stop him from writing.' Nonetheless, Turchak is not only free, but also continues to sit in the governor's chair."

Many attacks on journalists in post-Soviet Russia have gone unsolved, raising persistent questions about the government's commitment to protecting the media and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says 32 journalists have been "murdered with impunity" in Russia since 1992.

Below: Kommersant journalists demonstrate in Pskov in support of Kashin

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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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