Head of federal youth agency loses libel suit against beaten reporter

Oleg Kashin (RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin)
A district court in Moscow has rejected a lawsuit by the head of the Federal Youth Agency Vasiliy Yakemenko against Oleg Kashin, a reporter who was badly injured in a street attack in November 2010.

­On Tuesday the judge announced that the court had not established in the defendants’ actions the deliberate dissemination of false information that could be refuted; the lithmus test for libel cases under Russian law.

The court also rejected Yakemenko’s claims against reporter Aleksandr Morozov and the Novye Izvestiya newspaper which were filed within the same suit.

Yakemenko sued Kashin, Morozov and Novye Izvestiya in April and demanded that the defendants retract statements regarding Yakemenko’s complicity in the attack on Kashin that took place in November of last year. The formal reason was the text that Kashin posted in his blog, which Morozov and Novye Izvestiya subsequently quoted in their publication. The text of the blog post read “In reality I do not doubt the “Yakemenko” version, and I have no other versions”. Yakemenko also sought compensation of 1,5 million rubles in total (over $50,000) from all three defendants.

Kashin told reporters after the court session that he was very happy that the court was motivated by the law only. “Today is a holiday for me and a day of great failure for Vasily Yakemenko. I hope this will be not the last of his failures and not the last of my victories,” the journalist wrote in his blog on Tuesday.

The lawyer representing the plaintiff said he was not yet sure if his client planned to appeal.

The attack on Kashin in November 2010 became one of most notorious attacks on a journalist in Russia. Oleg Kashin, a reporter working for Kommersant daily, was ambushed by two men near the entrance of his apartment block in Moscow.  He was severely beaten by the assailants with steel rods. The doctors had to put Kashin into a drug-induced coma in order to treat him and amputated one of his fingers – the attackers aimed at the palms of the reporter’s hands. Prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation under the article of the Russian criminal code related to “attempted murder” as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the investigation to be taken under special control by the Prosecutor General. A short time later, Medvedev personally met Kashin in Israel, where the journalist was sent for treatment.

A few days after the attack on Kashin, the head of the Russian Federal Youth agency Sergei Yakemenko posted a harsh and ironic opinion piece in his blog in which he doubted the seriousness of Kashin’s injuries and accused the journalist of drawing too much attention to himself.  The blog post caused a torrent of responses in the media without spurring any serious accusations or lawsuits.

During the early stages of his career, Kashin specialized in reports about youth movements in politics, particularly the Nashi movement – the thousands-strong youth organization supporting Vladimir Putin and the United Russia party. The relationship between Kashin and Nashi was complicated to say the least.  On one occasion, Kashin was actually locked in a room and then dragged onstage before a congress of Nashi members, where he was accused of being biased and “anti-Russian”.

Kashin’s case is not the only one involving Vasily Yakemenko – right now another district court in Moscow is considering Yakemenko’s libel lawsuit against Russian political consultant and gallery owner Marat Guelman.  Guelman has stated publically that he was also attacked and beaten after refusing Yakemenko’s request not to lend his gallery to radical Russian politician Eduard Limonov.