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Russian official arrested in beating kept in jail

Russian official arrested in beating kept in jail

A municipal official in a city outside Moscow told a court Friday that investigators have pressured him to testify against the mayor, the latest development in a case involving the severe beating of an environmental activist.
Environmentalist Konstantin Fetisov, who campaigned against a controversial road project in the Moscow suburb of Khimki and accused officials of corruption, has remained hospitalized and unconscious since the November beating.
The Khimki court on Friday ordered Andrei Chernyshev, the head of the city's municipal property department, who is suspected of organizing the attack, to remain in custody until Feb. 5 while the investigation continues. He was arrested this week along with three men suspected of beating Fetisov.
Chernyshev has denied the allegations. He told the court that investigators were pressuring him to testify against the Khimki mayor. "They are threatening me by saying that my wife will become someone else's wife and my children will get a new father," Chernyshev, who has two children, said, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.
A similar attack in 2008 on reporter Mikhail Beketov left him brain-damaged. He was among the first to raise concerns about plans to build a highway through the Khimki forest and open up land along the route for development. Road construction is widely acknowledged to be one of the most corrupt sectors of Russia's economy, with numerous opportunities for kickbacks.
Just a few days after Fetisov was assaulted, Oleg Kashin, a Moscow journalist who also had reported on the Khimki controversy, was badly beaten _ hit some 50 times by two thugs in an attack caught on a security camera.
Many commentators have pointed the finger at the Khimki Mayor Vladimir Strelchenko. He has denied any connection to the attacks.
Russia has seen a wave of assaults on journalists and activists, and in most cases the perpetrators are never found. In the rare situations when attackers have been brought to justice, those who ordered the assaults have remained unidentified.
Chernyshev's arrest signals that the federal government could be moving to shake up the city government. Investigators suspect that Chernyshev was fulfilling someone's order in organizing the attack on Fetisov, RIA Novosti reported.
Following a wave of public protests, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the highway construction suspended in August so the route could be reassessed, but in December the Kremlin decided to allow the highway to go ahead along the original route. Those involved in the construction are reported to have high-level government connections.