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St. Petersburg journalist dies after 6 weeks in coma from beating by unidentified attackers

St. Petersburg journalist dies after 6 weeks in coma from beating by unidentified attackers
Nikolay Andrushchenko, a Russian journalist and civil rights activist known for his controversial corruption accusations, has died in the hospital six weeks after he was beaten by unidentified attackers in St. Petersburg. Police are investigating the case.

The 73-year old Andrushchenko passed away without coming out of a medically-induced coma after the suspected attack. The circumstances and suspects in the incident have not been revealed so far.

The journalist, who was the founder and a long-time editor of privately-owned Novy Peterburg newspaper, as well as a former city lawmaker and physicist with a higher doctorate degree, was found lying unconscious on the street on March 9 and transferred to the hospital in an ambulance.

According to Novy Peterburg chief editor Denis Usov, the incident took place after Andrushchenko allegedly received threats.

“[They] demanded he provide some documents. And then, he was found with his head banged near his house,” Usov said, as cited by RBK. He did not elaborate on what the documents were.

Usov added that they were told it was not clear if the journalist received the head injury as a result of the beating or from a fall. He speculated that the attack might have been connected to articles published in Novy Peterburg, some of which focused on the "theatrical fight against corruption," as well as allegations of past mafia links relating to the city authorities.

Andrushchenko was heading to a business meeting when the incident happened, said Novy Peterburg director Alevtina Avgeeva, adding that an investigation into the attack has been launched by the St. Petersburg police.

Andrushchenko was known as a harsh critic of the Russian government, and in particular of the judicial and law enforcement system of St. Petersburg, accusing the latter of links to southern Russian criminal groups in the 1990s. In 2008, he made headlines after penning a letter addressed to a list of human rights organizations and world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, then US President Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former UK PM Gordon Brown, in which he publicly renounced Russian citizenship and accused Moscow of political repressions and encroachment on freedom of speech.

While technically Russian law does not permit the renunciation of citizenship when the individual does not have citizenship of another country or “guarantees that he will obtain it,” and it is unclear what legal steps Andrushchenko actually attempted in this regard, he was also in the middle of a legal case with charges of libel and incitement leveled against him.

In 2007, Andrushchenko was detained and charged with incitement to carry out extremist activity, insulting a representative of authority and libel against state prosecution officials after a series of controversial articles for his newspaper. Those included Andrushchenko writing an editorial for his publication for people to take part in a mass unauthorized opposition rally, which was eventually not published.

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In June 2009, the court found Andrushchenko guilty of inciting social discord against prosecution officials and insulting them, for which he received a suspended sentence of one year and was ordered to pay a fine of 20,000 rubles ($350). Andrushchenko neither had to serve his jail nor pay the fine, as by the time the verdict arrived, the statute of limitations in his case had already expired.

Andrushchenko flatly denied all the charges against him and also included in the 2008 letter lengthy allegations of “torture” and mistreatment in detention by police, which he said had a severe effect on his health. He also claimed that a year prior to his arrest he unsuccessfully attempted to get police to detain a migrant worker who had allegedly beaten him with nunchucks and had attempted an arson attack on his flat, which led him to believe the attack was “organized” by the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Novy Peterburg newspaper, which was shut down by a separate court decision in 2007 after “signs of extremist materials” were found in its articles amid the legal proceedings in Andrushchenko’s case, resumed publication in 2009 after the ruling was appealed. While the paper had been known to be a highly controversial outlet in the journalistic community of St. Petersburg, the situation also sparked concerns and accusations of censorship.

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