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Mikhail Beketov: 1958-2013

Incredibly sad news this week comes with the death of Mikhail Beketov, who suffered heart failure yesterday at age 55. Beketov’s tragic end began in 2008 when he was left brain damaged after being brutally attacked outside his home in Khimki.  The attack came after a string of death threats made in connection with his journalistic work: Beketov self-funded the Khimkinskaya Pravda newspaper, which uncovered corruption related to the construction of the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway through Khimki forest.

Following the attack, in addition to losing a leg, several fingers, and his voice, Beketov was also charged with slander for accusing the Khimki mayor of being involved in a 2007 attack on his car.  The charge was eventually overturned in 2010.  Regarding his attackers, allegations have been made that police ignored witness evidence and failed to properly investigate the incident, and his assailants have still not been identified.  Vladimir Putin’s conferring of an annual state award for excellence in journalism on Beketov in 2011 was marked “absolutely cynical” by a fellow honoree, given the impunity of his attackers and the dangerous nature of investigative journalism under Putin’s rule. Yevgenia Chirikova, a fellow defender of Khimki forest, agreed: “If the cash prize would cover all of Misha’s treatment, if it would give him back his leg and the third of his brain that has been taken from him, I would vote for it with both hands.  If this has been done to say once again, ‘Misha is great,’ to the people who built the system that crippled Misha, it’s just cynicism.”

Beketov’s death was ultimately the result of choking on a piece of food, but his close friend Elena Kostyuchenko says it was the aftereffects of the attack that killed him, due to tracheal scars left by operations that initially saved his life.  Right after the attack in 2008, Grigory Pasko indicated that the attack was the beginning of Beketov’s end: “in Russia, a good journalist is a dead journalist“.  RFE/RL has an interview with Chirikova today in which she discusses her friendship with Beketov and the need for solidarity in the fight against corruption.