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Vagif Kochetkov, Trud and Tulsky Molodoi Kommunar , January 8, 2006, Tula

Kochetkov, a 31-year-old journalist in Tula, 125 miles (200 kilometers) south of Moscow, died in the Tula city hospital after undergoing surgery for a serious head injury he sustained during an attack two weeks before, according to CPJ interviews and local press reports.

Kochetkov was Tula correspondent for the Moscow daily Trud and a columnist for the local newspaper Tulsky Molodoi Kommunar , reporting on politics, social issues, and culture.

At least one assailant struck Kochetkov on the head with a blunt object and then robbed him of his bag and cell phone as he approached his home in Tula on the evening of December 27, sources told CPJ. The bag, which was later recovered, contained Kochetkov's passport, press card, credit card, and work-related documents. The attackers did not rob Kochetkov of his money or an expensive fur coat he was wearing. When a neighbor found Kochetkov's bag in her apartment building's basement, the bag contained everything but the documents related to Kochetkov's work, according to CPJ interviews with Kochetkov's parents, Valentina and Yuri, and Lena Shuletova, a friend and colleague.

On the night of the attack, the news agency ANN reported, Kochetkov told his parents he was meeting an unidentified person, after which he would return home to download his work on his computer. That evening, Valentina and Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ, the journalist called from a local coffee shop and told them that he'd be home in an hour. On the way, he was attacked.

Two neighbors found Kochetkov lying unconscious on the ground at around 2 a.m. on December 28. When he regained consciousness, the neighbors helped Kochetkov walk home. He did not seek immediate medical attention or report the attack to the police.

Kochetkov was not admitted to the hospital until the next day, when doctors diagnosed him with two hematomas and said his condition was not life-threatening, Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ. Kochetkov's health began deteriorating January 1. He underwent brain surgery on January 5 and fell into a coma and died three days later. An autopsy showed Kochetkov had suffered a skull fracture, a concussion, multiple chest bruises, and other head injuries, according to press reports and CPJ interviews.

Kochetkov never identified his attackers.

The Kochetkovs reported the attack on January 7 and police opened a criminal investigation, the parents told CPJ. By January 9, police said that they had identified a suspect.

On April 3, Tula prosecutors announced they had completed their investigation and determined Kochetkov's death to be a product of a robbery. That same day, prosecutors filed robbery and manslaughter charges against Yan Stakhanov, a 26-year-old Tula businessman.

Police did not focus on Kochetkov's work as a motive. Investigators did not question colleagues about Kochetkov's recent assignments, nor did they look at the reporter's computer or notebooks for leads. CPJ research shows that Kochetkov had worked on sensitive issues prior to his murder.

Just prior to the attack, Kochetkov wrote an article in Trud on the activities of a Tula drug-dealing group. The December 16 article was headlined, "Revenge of the Mafia?" In June 2005, Kochetkov criticized the aggressive business practices of a local pharmaceutical company in another article.

Journalists at Tulsky Molodoi Kommunar said in late March that Kochetkov had received telephone threats in retaliation for his reporting, the Moscow-based news Web site Newsinfo said. Kochetkov's colleagues believe that he had enemies but he never shared personal information, the Moscow-based news Web site Press-Attache said.

The trial of Stakhanov opened on April 17 in the Proletarski district court in Tula. Although the trial was said to be open, only one journalist at a time was admitted to the hearings. Officials cited lack of space in the court room, Valentina and Yuri Kochetkov told CPJ. Before the trial, Stakhanov allegedly confessed to killing Kochetkov but said later that the confession was coerced, local press reports said. During the trial, prosecutors said the assault on Kochetkov was part of a string of robberies in Tula, according to local press reports.

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists


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