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11 Apr, 2013 13:11

Russia buries journalist and eco-campaigner who died after beating

Russia buries journalist and eco-campaigner who died after beating

About 100 people, most of them journalists and environmental activists, have attended a memorial service for Mikhail Beketov, the award-winning journalist who was crippled in a brutal attack in 2008 and died in hospital this Monday, April 8.

The ceremony was held in the Moscow House of Journalists, and was followed by a Russian Orthodox service in the Church of St. Cosmas and Damian. Beketov was buried at the Novoluzhino cemetery in his home town of Khimki, in Moscow’s suburbs. He was 55 at the time of his death.

Beketov was the editor-in-chief of the Khimki Pravda newspaper, and became famous for his active stance against the destruction of the Khimki Forest – a small piece of woodland that had to be cut down to build a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. In November 2008, Beketov was badly beaten by unidentified attackers, leaving him disabled and unable to speak.

He was bedridden for several years, and only started walking again about 18 months ago with the help of crutches and a prosthetic limb. On Monday, Beketov was taken to a hospital in the town of Noginsk for a pre-scheduled rehabilitation course, but died a few hours after checking in. 

RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich

Russian police launched an investigation into the beating, classifying it as attempted murder, but to this day the probe has yielded no results, according to official reports. The regional branch of the agency for high-profile crimes – the Investigative Committee – said it has also launched an investigation into the man’s death, adding that a preliminary investigation showed that Beketov choked on food.

The 2008 attack sparked widespread condemnation in Russian society and abroad. Beketov’s colleagues called on authorities to find and punish those responsible.  A major rally was held in Moscow in which activists demanded that authorities take measures to prevent violence against reporters and sack the mayor of Khimki, who publicly opposed Beketov.

In 2010, Beketov received the award ‘For Courage and Professionalism’ from the Russian Union of Journalists, and the ‘Free Eastern Europe Press’ international award. In 2011, the reporter received the Russian government’s print media award.

RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich

During the memorial ceremony, chair of the Russian Union of Journalism Vsevolod Bogdanov praised Beketov’s activism, saying that the late editor worked to effect positive change and refused to “live in the time of bad consciousness.” Bogdanov also reminded the audience that over 350 journalists have been killed in Russia over the past 20 years.

Bogdanov said that Beketov managed to stir up the mass media, and showed other journalists that it was important to never stop working until you succeed: “For me, as the head of the Journalists’ Union, he is a holy icon.”

Bogdanov also read a letter of condolence from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The service was attended by heads of several Russian environmental movements, such as the leader of the Alliance of the Greens party Oleg Mitvol, and the leader of the For Khimki Forest movement Yevganiya Chirikova. The activists voiced suggestions that a street in Khimki should be named after Beketov.

Presidential plenipotentiary for Human Rights Vladimir Lukin again urged authorities to find and punish the attackers who crippled the reporter, as well as those who orchestrated the beating: “It is absolutely obvious that the circle of suspects is very close, and the circle of sponsors is even closer.”

Mikhail Beketov lived and died like a human being in a very inhumane time. He is without doubt a hero. He is a great hero,” Lukin concluded.