James Hill for The New York Time
Mikhail Beketov, an editor, was beaten severely in 2008.
MOSCOW — The Russian journalist Mikhail Beketov, who became a symbol of Russia’s culture of impunity after he was brutally beaten in 2008, died of heart failure on Monday, his lawyer announced.
After Mr. Beketov had called for the resignation of the municipal government in the city of Khimki, where he lived, his car was blown up. He later wrote about that in his newspaper, as well, and then was beaten so severely that he spent the rest of his life using a wheelchair, unable to form sentences. Three of his fingers and one of his legs had to be amputated.
The police barely investigated the crime, ignoring witnesses who came forward offering information and surveillance videos that could have identified Mr. Beketov’s assailants. By then, Mr. Beketov had become a hero to many, and the recipient of several journalism prizes, including one bestowed by the state.
Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmental activist from Khimki, said Mr. Beketov never recovered from the attack.
“In essence, they killed him back then,” she said in a telephone interview. “He was just dying all these years. That’s all.”
Yelena Kostuchenko, a journalist and friend, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that Mr. Beketov choked on a piece of food at lunch on Monday, which she linked to deep tracheal scarring that he sustained after the attack.
Mr. Beketov used his own money to finance the publication of a newspaper, Khimkinskaya Pravda, which had a circulation of about 10,000. He wrote scathingly about plans to build a major highway through the Khimki Forest, and of a decision to move a monument to servicemen killed in World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. In May 2007, someone beat his dog to death and set his car on fire.
Mr. Beketov told journalists he suspected the mayor, Vladimir Strelchenko, but the case was closed shortly thereafter for lack of evidence. Months later, Mr. Beketov was still writing: “Last spring, I called for the resignation of the city’s leadership. A few days later, my automobile was blown up. What is next for me?”
Before he was attacked, Mr. Beketov had warned Ms. Chirikova that something might happen to him, and told her the police should “look in the Khimki administration.” But investigators eventually suspended the investigation for a lack of evidence.
“The fact that the mastermind of this crime has never been punished, that means that they simply don’t want to look for him,” she said. “They know exactly who did it.”
Mr. Strelchenko, who said he played no role in the attack, won a slander case against Mr. Beketov in 2010, when the journalist was unable to speak or walk. He remained mayor of Khimki for four years, stepping down for what authorities said were unrelated reasons. Ms. Chirikova said she was never sure whether Mr. Beketov understood that the mayor had left office. “He was so badly disfigured from that moment, he always smiled, it was hard to know whether he was made happy or sad by this news,” she said.
Municipal authorities in Khimki announced on Monday that they would assist in arranging his burial. In comments to the Interfax news service, Lyudmila M. Alekseyeva, the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, hailed the “tenacity and heroism with which he defended the dignity and rights of citizens, despite his grave physical condition.”
This article, “Russian Journalist Who Became Symbol After Beating Dies,” first appeared in The New York Times.
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