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Russia27 February 2009

Officials in Khimki try to prevent residents seeing letter drafted by journalist who was beaten nearly to death

All copies of the 18 February issue of the Moscow-based biweekly Novaya Gazeta that were to have sold in the Moscow satellite town of Khimki were bought up by the local authorities prior to distribution so that the only way for Khimki residents to be able to read its content was to go the newspaper’s website.

The issue included an open letter from a number of Khimki residents to President Dmitri Medvedev, and to the federal agency for the control of natural resources, Rosprirodnadzor, opposing the construction of a motorway through Khimki forest.

It was the finished version of the letter Mikhail Beketov, the editor of the Khimki-based local newspaper Khimkinskaya Pravda, had been drafting in November when he was the target of a brutal attack that left him in a coma, Novaya Gazeta revealed.

“Buying up all the copies of a newspaper is both ridiculous and arbitrary, and is just one more example of the Khimki local government’s misdeeds,” Reporters Without Borders said. “There is an urgent need for the competent authorities to examine the way the town and its resources are being managed. More serious consideration should also be given to the possibility that local officials were involved in the attack on Beketov.”

This is not the first time that the local authorities have obstructed the dissemination of media reports in Khimki. When TV Tsentr, whose signal is received by satellite in Khimki, dedicated its “Moment of Truth” programme on 12 and 13 January to the situation in Khimki and the attack on Beketov, reception was blacked out in Khimki.

Beketov also opposed a real estate project being promoted by Khimki mayor Victor Strelchenko and, prior to the attack, had been about to publish information about the business activities of members of the mayor’s family. Strelchenko is seeking another term in the 1 March local elections.

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