Russian Journalist Who Investigated Hydro Plant Explosion Attacked (updated)

Mikhail Afanasyev, editor-in-chief of Novy FokusUpdate: Mikhail Afanasyev has now been hospitalized after his attack. The journalist told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that doctors want to keep him under watch for as long as ten days.

An independent Russian journalist who asked questions after the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric dam disaster has been attacked in the city of Abakan. Mikhail Afanasyev, who works as the editor-in-chief of the Novy Fokus internet newspaper, related the news himself to the online newspaper on September 9th.

Afanasyev said two unknown assailants ran up to him in a schoolyard near his home, hitting him in the head. One of them asked the other “is that him?” and when the second attacker said “yes,” both men pounded him repeatedly until he lost consciousness. The journalists connected the attack with his professional work. According to the online newspaper, he did not seek medical attention after the assault.

The editor came to prominence in the days after the deadly disaster at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant, which killed over 70 workers. On behalf of the victims’ families, Afanasyev publicly questioned the official response to the catastrophe, asking whether there may have been survivors trapped in air pockets within the wreckage of the dam. The journalist also suggested that the official death toll, which was only 10 people at that point, was entirely too low.

Local authorities in the Republic of Khakassia then pressed charges against him for alleged defamation. Sergey Shoygu, who heads the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations and led the rescue effort, said it was essential to find those guilty of sowing panic after the catastrophe.

On September 1st, the case against Afanasyev was closed, although officials declined to name a reason. Speaking the day before, Shoygu had amended his statement, saying that he was “not asking for the blood” of Mikhail Afanasyev, but that he should apologize.

The same day that Afanasyev was attacked, rescuers recovered the 74th body from the ruins of the hydroelectric station. According to authorities, there is now only one woman who worked at the dam and has yet to be found.