Journalists in Russia have long faced often brutal retaliation for their reporting into organized crime and the corruption of public officials. Now that violence appears to be hitting journalists reporting on one of the country’s most high-profile environmental battles—over the government’s plan to pave a highway through one of the last remaining pristine forests in western Russia.
Over the past three days, two journalists reporting on protests into the plan to create a road through the Khimki forest from St. Petersburg to Moscow, and onto the international airport in Sheremetyevo, were brutally beaten. On November 8, Anatoly Adamchuk, who had reported on protests against the clearing of the forest as well as other forest controversies, was bludgeoned in front of the offices of his suburban Moscow weekly newspaper, Zhukovsky City News (Russian only).
That attack followed an assault on Saturday against Oleg Kashin, who has reported extensively on the forest conflict as well as other instances of Russian corruption for the daily newspaper Kommersant, one of Russia’s most respected mainstream newspapers. Bishkin was found on Saturday morning, his head battered, leg broken and jaw shattered, in front of the newspaper’s office in Moscow.
The assault against Kashin was captured in a horrific surveillance video. It’s pretty graphic and I’m not necessarily recommending you watch it. I include it as a reminder of how cold statistics about threats to journalists—Russia ranks eighth on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity index of countries where assaults on journalists are least likely to be prosecuted – often contain a truly gruesome back-story and grim reality.
The attacks around the controversial Khimki project have not stopped at journalists. Environmental activists camped out in the forest to protest a multibillion-dollar effort to construct a highway have been met with violence. While trying to stop bulldozers from destroying the forest, the activists were repeatedly attacked by armed thugs; at least two of the activists are still in the hospital recovering from their wounds.
[A thank you to Olga Zakharova, an environmental journalists and lecturer at Moscow State University, who helped alert me to this story, which she’s been following. She commented in an e-mail: “This seems like an organized campaign to shut up citizens.”
You can see a thorough rendering of the evolving, and increasingly violent, controversy here.]
Still on the subject of forests, though in a different part of the world, the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, a Toronto-based consortium of governments and research institutions probing into the impact of financial corruption, released a devastating report on the illegal logging trade.
It details how the black market in tropical hardwoods does little to spur economic development but instead leads to channeling billions of dollars from developing countries to developed ones. It’s no surprise, perhaps, to those who follow such things, but the details, and the credentials of the authors of the report, signal a new seriousness, perhaps, about the multiple destructive impacts of illegal logging.