STARBEYEVO, Russia – A muckraking Russian reporter left handicapped by a 2008 attack he linked to his work was convicted Wednesday of defaming one of the officials he criticized.
Mikhail Beketov's supporters said the verdict was another sign of degrading media freedom in Russia, where another journalist covering the same story was beaten so badly over the weekend that doctors placed into an artificial coma to protect his brain.
Beketov, a reporter for the Khimkinskaya Pravda newspaper, irked authorities with his articles of corruption involving the Khimki forest, part of which officials have torn down to make way for a highway to St. Petersburg that may or may not be built. Beketov uses a wheelchair after a vicious beating by two unidentified assailants near his home left him unconscious in the snow. He had a leg amputated and is unable to speak. His supporters claim the attack was retaliation for articles criticizing local authorities.
One of the officials Beketov criticized was Vladimir Strelchenko, the mayor of Khimki, a town just outside Moscow that is home to the forest. Beketov gave a 2007 television interview in which he accused Strelchenko of involvement in blowing up his car.
Strelchenko sued for slander and the court in Khimki issued a 5,000 ruble ($160) fine but said Mikhail Beketov didn't have to pay because of a technicality.
Beketov's assistant said he would appeal.
"There's nothing human left in this man," Lyudmila Fedotova, head of the Beketov Foundation support group, said of Strelchenko.
The mayor was in court on Tuesday and declared he felt sorry for Beketov but also compelled to forge ahead with charges.
Aided by an artificial leg, Beketov is slowly learning to walk again, and after the verdict took a few steps for a reporter visiting his home a mile outside Khimki.
The scandal over the highway was a chief topic in the writings of Oleg Kashin, a reporter for the Kommserant broadsheet who was brutally mugged in Moscow on Saturday.
Doctors on Wednesday voiced cautious optimism that Kashin, who was bludgeoned on the head, arms and legs, was improving, Russian media reported.
Associated Press writer David Nowak contributed to this report from Moscow.