Two RFE/RL correspondents have been beaten and robbed by masked assailants in southern Russia.
Several assailants attacked RFE/RL Russian Service reporter Sergei Khazov-Cassia and cameraman Andrei Kostyanov on the morning of March 28 as they were leaving their hotel in Kropotkin, a town in Krasnodar Krai. They were there to cover a planned protest by farmers.
RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called the attack “unacceptable” and demanded a thorough investigation, with a focus on the actions of local police, saying that crimes against journalists must not be “met with impunity.”
Khazov-Cassia said that at least 10 attackers, who wielded cans of pepper spray, knocked the journalists down and repeatedly kicked them. The assailants seized personal belongings and equipment — some of which was later returned — and fled the site in a white minibus.
WATCH: Sergei Khazov-Cassia Recalls Attack
Kostyanov was hospitalized with a broken rib.
Khazov-Cassia said that the police had visited the two journalists twice before the attack, which occurred in the morning.
“First they came yesterday [March 27] to ascertain who was staying in the hotel room, and then they visited us this morning, about one hour before we left the hotel and were attacked,” he said. He also said that police later told him that no records were available from the closed-circuit TV cameras around the hotel.
“This thuggish attack on our reporters, who were acting in their professional capacity and covering an event, is unacceptable,” said Kent, the RFE/RL president. “We demand a full investigation, with a focus on the role of local police in the incident, to ensure that this is not another crime against journalists in Russia that is met with impunity.”
Khazov-Cassia said he provided police, who came hours after being called following the attack, with the license-plate number of the minibus used by the attackers. However, he said the vehicle had not yet been located.
On Facebook, Khazov-Cassia said that when a police officer learned that he worked for RFE/RL, the officer said, “‘Well, I have lost the desire to help you.’ After I urged him to perform his professional duties and assist me, he said. ‘Okay, okay.'”
The Krasnodar Krai police department told RFE/RL that the attack was being investigated. They said that police in Kropotkin were “performing all necessary measures to identify and locate the individuals involved in inflicting bodily harm on the radio station’s representatives and in stealing their equipment,” the police said.
When the journalists returned to the hotel with police, they found that some of the stolen items had been returned to their room, including the laptop and a camera, Khazov-Cassia said. But a backpack with personal belongings was still missing.
Khazov-Cassia and Kostyanov had planned to report on a “Tractors’ March” protest by farmers on March 28, but it did not take place.
Several farmers driving tractors were stopped and detained in the Krasnodar Krai town of Tikhoretsk on their way to Kropotkin, according to OVD-Info, a website that monitors arrests and other police activity in Russia.
With reporting by RFE/RL’s Russian Service and OVD-Info