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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Masked Men Assault Reporter in Kemerovo

Three masked men forced their way into a journalist's apartment in the Kemerovo region and beat him so badly he lost the sight in his left eye.

A spokesman for the regional police in Kemerovo, some 3,000 kilometers southeast of Moscow, said it was most likely a simple case of robbery. But the editor of the newspaper where the journalist worked said it was almost certainly connected to articles he had written criticizing a local cultural center.

Ilya Lyakhov, who wrote for the state-funded Kuzbass newspaper, was drinking tea with a friend in his apartment late Saturday evening when he heard someone banging at his door, local police spokesman Valery Rudin said Wednesday.

When he opened the door, three men in masks pushed him to the floor and hit him with heavy objects, probably brass knuckles, Rudin said. They also kicked him and punched him repeatedly. The friend was beaten slightly, but Lyakhov received most of the injuries, Rudin said.

The criminals made off with Lyakhov's music system and a ceremonial sword hanging on his wall. Lyakhov was taken to a hospital, where he has undergone two operations on his left eye. No one has been charged in connection with the crime.

"It is not yet clear whether he has regained the sight in his left eye," Kuzbass editor Viktor Kladchikhin said. "He will be in the hospital for at least another two weeks."

A spokesman for the Kemerovo regional police said the case had been passed to the region's prosecutor, but that it appeared to be a simple robbery.

"There was no indication that the incident was connected to Lyakhov's professional activities," the spokesman said.

But two months earlier, Lyakhov had written an article in Kuzbass criticizing Kemerovo's Palace of Culture.

"He wrote that the establishment was turning into a commercial enterprise with restaurants, bars and a casino, which denied young people their recreational activities," Kladchikhin said. "Someone, somewhere, obviously didn't like the comments and thought they would teach him a lesson."

Kladchikhin said that Lyakhov had received threatening phone calls days after the article was published from a man saying he would "shoot him for what he had written."

Last year another journalist, who had written articles denouncing then Kemerovo Governor Mikhail Kislyuk, narrowly missed serious injury when an explosive device blew up outside his apartment, Kladchikhin said.

"His door was destroyed and a lot of furniture damaged in the blast," he said, adding that no one has been arrested for the incident.

Boris Timoshenko at the Glasnost Defense Foundation, an independent nongovernmental organization working to defend journalists' rights in Russia, said it was possible Lyakhov had been attacked because of what he had printed in Kuzbass.

"Unfortunately, cases like this are becoming more and more frequent in Russia," Timoshenko said.

Earlier this year the editor of an opposition newspaper in the republic of Kalmykia was found stabbed to death.