Woman, 27, is latest victim of attacks on Russian journalists

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

The independent

31 July 2004

Natalia Romanova, a well-respected financial journalist at the weekly Russian business magazine Company, had just walked into the stairwell of her apartment inn Moscow with her day's shopping when an attacker struck.

The man waiting for her said nothing, stole nothing and betrayed no emotion. Instead, he silently administered a savage beating to the 27-year-old reporter, repeatedly punching her in the face and head. He left her body crumpled on the floor, her face a bloodied mess. She is still in hospital today.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into Wednesday's attack, made public yesterday, but Ms Romanova's colleagues think they know why she was beaten so viciously. Her attack, they suspect, is the latest in a long line of assaults, some of which end in death, on Russia's beleaguered journalistic community.

Earlier this month, Paul Klebnikov, the American-born editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was murdered and the corpse of an Armenian journalist, Paul Peloyan, was found dumped on Moscow's outer ring road.

Sixteen journalists have lost their lives in dubious circumstances in Russia since 2000. Police in St Petersburg are currently searching for Maxim Maximov, an investigative reporter who has been missing for over a month.

Ms Romanova's boss and chief editor, Andrei Grigoriev, believes she was targeted because she wrote something that offended someone in Russia's powerful and often shadowy business world.

"In almost every issue, we carry something about business conflicts, about the struggle for some kind of new market, about a clash of interests," he said yesterday. "I'm fairly certain the attack was linked to her work. It could be simple hooliganism but it seems unlikely."

Ms Romanova was holding a purse, keys and an expensive mobile phone when she was attacked, but nothing was taken.

Mr Grigoriev says it is difficult to say which article might have triggered the attack but notes that the magazine has covered the recent banking crisis in Russia a lot and that the sector is "under real strain".

"Sometimes you can write something that looks innocent but which has serious and decisive implications for somebody else. You just never know."

Although Mr Grigoriev says Russia's journalists are not panicking yet, he says the situation is worrying. "Journalists have been beaten and killed before, in the 1990s, but it appears to be starting again."