Just two days after a security camera caught two men beating journalist Oleg Kashin unconscious on a Moscow street, a second reporter who wrote about a controversial road proposed for a beloved Moscow forest has suffered a concussion at the hands of unknown assailants.
Kashin is in a medically induced coma in a Moscow hospital after a weekend assault that left him with a severed finger, a broken leg and fractured jaws. Video from a closed circuit camera of two men holding Kashin down and beating him with an iron bar that had been hidden in a bouquet of flowers has appeared on a Russian web site and state television. The attack lasted a minute and a half.
"I hope that he can work again," Kashin's father Vladimir told ABC News. "I hope that he can survive."
"I don't know why exactly he was attacked," said fellow journalist Yvgenia Albats, an investigative reporter and editor-in-chief of the magazine New Times. "I know for sure that he was attacked because of his work."
Kashin has reported on many controversial topics, including political youth groups, but speculation about the cause for the assault centers on Kashin's coverage of the Khimki road project, a proposed multi-billion dollar highway through the heart of a "green belt" birch forest on the city's outskirts. Logging for the road began in July, but after fierce public protest construction was temporarily suspended by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Kashin, who works for the prominent business newspaper Kommersant, had written about a July protest against the road, conducting an interview with a blogger who said he had led an attack on a government building in Khimki.
Backers of the project stand to lose a huge investment if the highway is scrapped. The project is supported by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and after one of Kashin's articles on Khimki, the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Guard posted a piece online with the headline "Journalist Betrayers Must Be Punished" as well as a picture of Kashin with the label "Will Be Punished." Young Guard has denied involvement in the attack on Kashin and condemned it.
The debate over Khimki reached a fever pitch over the summer when thousands gathered in central Moscow to protest the project. Russian rock icon Yury Shevchuk performed and a few days later when the internationally known band U2 was playing the capital, singer Bono invited Shevchuk on stage, which many took as a gesture of solidarity with protectors of the forest. In a surprising turn of events, Medvedev then ordered a moratorium on the project, a rare victory for public protest in Russia.
Forty-eight hours after the attack on Kashin, Anatoly Adamchuk was hit on the head by two men outside the offices of the suburban Moscow weekly he edits. Adamchuk had also written about the Khimki road project, publishing a story last week about schoolchildren who were held by police after tying ribbons around trees in the forest. An environmentalist who had criticized the project was assaulted last week, and in 2008 a newspaper editor who had opposed the road had his fingers and a leg broken in a beating similar to Kashin's.
Russia is a dangerous place to be a journalist. At least 19 have been killed since 2000, according to the international Committee to Protect Journalists, and 18 of the cases remain unsolved. In the most high-profile case, three men were tried for the 2006 shooting death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a Kremlin critic and human rights activist, but were acquitted in February 2009. Five months later Politskovskaya's friend and ally Natalia Estermirova, a human rights activist, was kidnapped and murdered.
President Medvedev has ordered that Kashin's attackers be tracked down and punished.