MOSCOW, April 8 (RIA Novosti) – An opposition journalist from the Moscow Region who sustained permanent head trauma after a brutal beating five years ago died on Monday after choking on a bit of food, his supporter told RIA Novosti.
Mikhail Beketov’s heart stopped when he choked, and though he was in the hospital at the time, medics failed to resuscitate him, said Lyudmila Fedotova, who heads a Beketov support fund.
He was 55.
Beketov, who headed a local newspaper in the region’s second-biggest city of Khimki, which has a population of 215,000, was attacked in the street by unidentified thugs in 2008.
He was beaten with metal rods, losing a leg and several fingers, as well as the ability to speak after a brain injury caused by shards of his own skull.
The perpetrators remain at large despite President Vladimir Putin’s personal promise of justice for Beketov.
Beketov was a vocal opponent of the city administration, criticizing it, among other things, for endorsing the federal government’s plan to demolish part of the Khimki forest to build a highway from Moscow to St. Petersburg.
The battle for the Khimki forest was among the most high-profile public campaigns in Russia in the late 2000s, though it failed to stop the Kremlin from authorizing the deforestation.
At least three other forest defenders were targeted in 2009 and 2010 in attacks similar to that on Beketov. Investigators implicated a city official as a middleman in one of the attacks, but never said who masterminded it.
Beketov blamed the attack on himself on then-Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko, who sued the disabled journalist for libel but lost the case.
Beketov was given a Press Freedom Award by Reporters Without Borders in 2010 and a Russian government award for journalism in 2012.
“He believed and hoped until the last moment that the attackers will be found and punished. That it never happened was weighing him down until the end,” his lawyer Stalina Gurevich told RIA Novosti.