Editor Brutally Assaulted In Khimki

A newspaper editor in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was brutally assaulted by unidentified assailants in an attack his colleagues said Friday was linked to his criticism of local authorities' deforestation plans.

Mikhail Beketov, editor and owner of Khimkinskaya Pravda, a weekly in the town on Moscow's northern outskirts, was discovered Thursday bloodied and unconscious near his home, his friends said in a statement.

Beketov suffered a closed skull and leg fracture, a concussion and multiple contusions, said a doctor at Khimki's Hospital No. 1, where the editor was being treated. The patient's condition was serious but stable, said the doctor, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

A duty officer at Khimki police headquarters said a criminal investigation had been opened into the attack but that it was too early to say whether the beating was connected to Beketov's work.

Beketov had repeatedly told friends that he had received threats "from criminals" over his newspaper's critical articles about plans by the Khimki city administration to fell swathes of trees in the Khimki Forest, said Serafima Naomicheva, an activist with a group fighting to prevent the deforestation.

Naomicheva accused the Khimki administration of being behind the attack. "This is the administration's revenge on him after all of the threats he has been getting," Naomitcheva said by telephone.

Repeated calls to the Khimki city administration for comment about the allegation went unanswered Friday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists urged investigators to bring the attackers to justice.

"We condemn this vicious attack on Mikhail Beketov and call on the authorities to undertake a thorough and transparent investigation into it," Nina Ognianova , the group's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement. "Russia's record on attacks on independent and critical reporters is appalling, and authorities should not let impunity prevail in yet another case."

Beketov has accused Khimki authorities of harassing him in the past. In May 2007, Beketov told The Moscow Times that he awoke to find his car in flames. He said he suspected that Khimki officials had organized the arson attack, linking it to his newspaper's critical coverage of a decision to relocate the remains of six World War II pilots at a memorial along Leningradskoye Shosse in order to widen the highway.

On Nov. 20, a local court was to begin hearing a libel suit filed against Beketov by Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko, RIA-Novosti reported Friday.