Death of an Unknown Journalist

Megan Stack at the Los Angeles Times has a good article today on the murder by police brutality of the journalist Konstantin Popov, whose death has revealed the tragic face of routine violence and impunity by members of the policy force.  Popov was not believed to have been singled out for his work as a journalist, but rather merely one of many regular victims of police abuse.

Konstantin Popov was a little-known 47-year-old journalist who specialized in writing about economics. A few days into the new year, in the thick of a 10-day Russian holiday known for its debaucheries, Popov was arrested and thrown into the police holding cell reserved for the drunk and disorderly.

He was taken home the next day, but he had been beaten so badly his wife grew alarmed and took him to a hospital. He soon lapsed into a coma from severe damage to his internal organs.

Because Popov was a journalist, and because Russia is a country wherenot-uncommon attacks on journalists are carefully tracked, his deathdrew national attention. News conferences were called. The Tomsk drunktank was closed down. The deputy police chief resigned, along with thesupervisor of the holding cell. The police chief apologized. The youngofficer was arrested and confessed.

But human rights officials warn that the case is just one small storyin a tapestry of alcoholism, police brutality and the expectation ofauthoritative impunity that bedevils today’s Russia.

“The only thing different about this case is that he happened to be ajournalist, so it became a high-profile public case. But the same thinghappens every day,” said Svetlana Gannushkina, a human rights lawyerand chairwoman of Russia’s Civic Assistance committee. “Usually thecases are just closed down because there’s no evidence, nobodytestifies, and it’s impossible to get to the bottom of it.”