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Newspaper editor assaulted, hospitalised

Embattled weekly's editor assaulted in Kaliningrad

(CPJ/IFEX) New York, July 8, 2009 - Following an assault last week on the editor-in-chief of the independent weekly Dvornik in the western city of Kaliningrad, the Committee to Protect Journalists called today on regional authorities to thoroughly investigate the attack and bring those responsible to justice. The paper has been subjected to repeated harassment and legal prosecution.

On Thursday, an unidentified assailant wearing a hooded jacket attacked Aleksei Shabunin with a heavy metal rod on the head while he was heading home on a bicycle at around 7 p.m., the editor told CPJ. He said the attacker approached Shabunin on an empty road, hit him in the head, and fled the scene.

The journalist and his colleagues at Dvornik told CPJ they believe the attack is related to his journalism. The critical weekly covers corruption cases in the local government and law enforcement agencies, and has been at odds with regional authorities.

According to local news reports, Shabunin was treated at a hospital the same day and tried to report the incident to the Baltiyski district police department immediately, but an officer in charge would not accept his statement, saying he was off duty for dinner. Police opened a probe only after the local press covered the attack, Russian news Web site Gazeta reported. Shabunin said he did not receive any threats before the attack.

"We're deeply disturbed by the initial reaction of the Kaliningrad police to this heinous attack," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We call on the Kaliningrad region's chief of police, Sergei Kirichenko, to ensure that the police fulfill their obligation to conduct a full investigation, including into a possible connection to Shabunin's journalism."

The staff of Dvornik has been at odds with regional authorities and faced attacks and harassment before. In June, Kaliningrad police arrested Shabunin, charging him with hitting a woman with his car. Although Shabunin, his lawyer, and colleagues insisted he was in the office at the time of the incident, a local court sentenced him to four days in jail. In December 2005, authorities charged Dvornik's founder, Arseny Makhlov, with criminal libel after the weekly criticized a local prosecutor for mishandling a case against a government official. In March 2008, Makhlov was stabbed outside Kaliningrad after his paper covered a shady real estate deal in the city. Last April, authorities detained Makhlov and charged him with bribing a traffic police officer. Makhlov is awaiting a trial date. If convicted he faces up to eight years in prison.

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