A crusading Russian reporter was in a coma Saturday after two masked men savagely beat him with metal rods, an attack that drew the immediate condemnation not only of his fellow journalists but of President Dmitry Medvedev.
Oleg Kashin, a reporter with the daily Kommersant newspaper, was ambushed overnight near his home in central Moscow by two men who witnesses said beat the 30-year-old journalist on the head, legs and hands and then ran away.
The Russia 24 television station reported that doctors who initially treated Kashin said his jaw, both legs and several fingers were broken and at least one part of a finger had been torn off. Kashin was not robbed of his cellphone or wallet, television reports said.
Mikhail Fedotov, the secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, pointed to the bludgeoning of Kashin's hands as particularly sinister.
"What's so utterly disgusting about the case is that the attackers did their utmost if not to kill Kashin but to maim him gravely enough to prevent him from ever being physically able to write again," Fedotov said.
Fedotov said Kashin's beating was the fifth attack on Russian journalists in just the last 30 days, adding to a climate of intimidation in a country that has seen growing protests over limits on personal liberties.
Medvedev wrote on his Twitter blog that he had ordered the prosecutor general's office and the Interior Ministry to oversee the investigation. "The criminals must be apprehended and punished," Medvedev wrote Saturday.
Fedotov said he was impressed with how quickly the president reacted to the attack.
"It is an unprecedentedly prompt reaction, something which never happened before, and it is very indicative," he said.
Investigators said they were classifying the attack as a murder attempt.
"One of [the possible motives] is of course linked to his professional activities," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the prosecutor general's office, said in televised remarks.
Kashin's colleagues and human rights activists believe that is very likely.
"Oleg writes a lot about the public's growing discontent, about protest actions and opposition demonstrations," Kommersant reporter Musa Muradov said in an interview with The Times. "He is very young and very brave, and I think he enjoys working on the edge, interviewing people whose voices are not welcome by many in our country."
Fedotov, who is also the chairman of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions, agreed.
"I have no doubt that it was a political attack directly connected with Kashin's professional activities," he said. "This brazen attack demonstrates that there are powerful forces in our country which want to hamper the … democratization of the country."
In August, the pro-Kremlin youth group Young Guard called Kashin a "reporter-traitor" who should be punished. In a biting piece on the group's website, a writer accused Kommersant and Kashin personally of "semi-clandestine subversive activities aimed at depraving the readership and discrediting the organs of power."
The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, a Moscow-based human rights group, registered 20 attacks on journalists in 2009. Fedotov pointed to "several dozen" attacks across Russia so far this year.