Beaten Khimki Journalist Convicted of Slander

Mikhail Beketov. Source: Novaya GazetaIn the midst of a media frenzy over the savage attack on Russian journalist Oleg Kashin, another beaten journalist in the Moscow suburb of Khimki has been convicted of slander against the local mayor and ordered to pay a fine.

The suit against Khimkinskaya Pravda Editor-in-Chief Mikhail Beketov was filed by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko. Strelchenko’s name has reappeared in the news over the past few days as a possible suspect in Kashin’s assault. He had sued Beketov for slander following an interview on REN-TV, in which the journalist accused the mayor of setting his car on fire.

“I see it as political terror, where Strelchenko came out and ordered the attack,” Beketov said at the time.

As the New York Times points out, the journalist had been a longtime critic of the Khimki city administration, including in regards to controversial construction plans for a highway from Moscow to St. Petersburg that would have cut down a large swath of the Khimki Forest. Days after calling for the resignation of the city’s leadership in Spring 2008, Beketov’s car was blown up. Then, that November, the journalist was beaten by unknown attackers and permanently disabled. No arrests have been made in either case.

On Wednesday, a judge in the Khimki Magistrate Court convicted Beketov of slander against Strelchenko and sentenced him to a fine of about $170.

“Beketov was sentenced to a fine of five thousand rubles,” the journalist’s lawyer, Andrei Stoblunov, told “Considering that the statute of limitations is up, he won’t be paying the fine.”

Still, Stoblunov said he plans to appeal the decision on the basis that the article of Russia’s criminal code used to persecute Beketov is being used inappropriately by the authorities. “If article 129 is going to be used further against society, it will signal the death knell of the war against corruption,” he charged.

Wednesday’s sentencing was notable because it was the first out of three hearings where Mayor Strelchenko actually appeared in the courtroom. The court turned down his charges on two previous occasions when the mayor simply did not show up. According to several media sources, Strelchenko had urged Beketov to settle the case.

For his part, Beketov appeared at each of the court hearings, despite his disability – the journalist was forced to rent a special truck and hire emergency medical personnel to attend each session.