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Journalists assaulted, equipment broken, confiscated

(GDF/IFEX) - In the Yubileiny District of Krasnodar late on 24 November 2008, a woman with a baby carriage and her husband were hit by a Hyundai Sonata while crossing the street. When a crew of reporters for the TV/Radio Company "Krasnodar" arrived to cover the accident, the men sitting in the Sonata demanded that Mikhail Zakhozhiy, the cameraman, switch off his camera. They then hit him several times in the face, confiscated the cassette and damaged the video camera.

The journalists were compelled to call colleagues and police for help. The attackers told them that "we ourselves are the police" and one of them slapped reporter Irina Kizilbasheva on the face with a red card that looked like a police ID.

Another crew had had the time to shoot some sequences featuring the crime scene, the car and the people in it. The reaction of the people in the car was aggressive: they confiscated cameraman Valery Gritskevich's tripod, broke his flashlight and took away the recorded cassette.

"The tripod was later returned but we never got back the cassette," said editor-in-chief Tatyana Panasyuk. The reporters got their injuries certified by medics and the TV company's lawyer is already preparing documents to be submitted to court.

The journalists complained to the regional police chief, S. Kucheruk, and V. Golota, the prosecutor of the Western District of Krasnodar, about having been attacked while fulfilling an editorial assignment and having had their office equipment damaged. The prosecutor has already ordered a report to see whether the case falls under Article 144 of the RF Criminal Code ("interference with journalists' lawful professional activities").

Zhdan Tikhonov, head of the Krasnodar TV company, commented: "The journalistic investigation has been going on by fits and starts because the bulk of information remains classified.

"The police might have disclosed the names of the journalists' attackers the same night, but they have never done so again. Sequences featuring the attackers' faces were shown on TV in the hope that some viewers might recognize them, but all to zero effect. We intend to continue our independent investigation until the case in brought to court."

On 27 November, Ilya Shakalov, press spokesman for the Krasnodar City Police Department, said that two Sonata passengers had been brought to the police headquarters only to be identified as people unrelated to the law enforcement agencies, and that the investigation into the case continued.

Still, many local journalists maintain that the Sonata must have carried a group of plain-clothed officers of one of the force agencies, a fact which may seriously complicate the investigation.

Meanwhile, the Investigations Department of the Investigations Committee under the Office of the RF Prosecutor General has reported on its website that the details of the attack on the Krasnodar journalists covering a road accident are being checked now.

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