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Hard-Hitting Journalism: Siberian Official Body-Slams State TV Journalist


Sergei Zaitsev could face up to six years in prison.

A regional boss in eastern Siberia has been suspended by the ruling United Russia party after he body-slammed a journalist from the state Rossia-24 television channel.

The journalist was asking Sergei Zaitsev, head of the Shirinsky region of Russia's Republic of Khakasia, about allegedly slipshod housing provided to people left homeless by wildfires in 2015.

The press service of United Russia, the Putin-era "party of power" that generally works hand-in-glove with the Kremlin, said on May 27 that Zaitsev had been suspended as secretary of its regional branch and could face removal from his post.

Party General Secretary Andrei Turchak was quoted as saying, "If you don't know how to deal with people and answer pointed questions, you have no place in government."

On May 22, a Rossia-24 camera crew showed up at Zaitsev's office and began asking questions about the state of the federally funded housing.

Three days later, the channel broadcast footage of Zaitsev trying to grab the microphone from journalist Ivan Litoman's hand before rising from his desk and angrily lifting, then slamming Litoman to the floor.

The clip did not show what preceded the attack, and it was not immediately clear if Litoman suffered any injuries.

The Investigative Committee said on May 27 that a criminal investigation into the incident had been opened on suspicion that Zaitsev obstructed "the lawful professional activities of journalists." If charged and convicted, he could face up to six years in prison.

In April 2015, wildfires in Khakasia left 34 people dead and more than 5,000 more homeless. In the village of Shira alone, 500 homes were destroyed.

With cameras rolling, President Vladimir Putin subsequently visited the scene and ordered that aid be delivered promptly and that homes be rebuilt.

Some 1.5 billion rubles ($23.2 million) was allocated from the federal budget to provide relief.

After complaints of shoddy construction and other problems, an audit revealed that much of the money had been stolen.

Zaitsev had already been convicted of failing to remove illegal waste dumps near the village that contributed to the 2015 fire and of failing to create an early-warning system to notify locals of the danger. He was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison but granted a full amnesty under a general amnesty to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II. His conviction was annulled and he was allowed to remain in his post.

Rossia-24 journalist Litoman made headlines in April with a story about Nikita Yegorov-Kirillov, the organizer of a series of gay-friendly parties in Moscow who was attacked by unknown assailants. Many viewers found Litoman's piece, in which he described the parties as "orgies" and social-media posts from witnesses to the attacks were read in a nearly falsetto voice, offensive and homophobic.

Robert Coalson contributed to this report
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