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Death of Russian journalist in police detention sparks outrage

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Konstantin Popov, a journalist for the weekly Tomskaya Nedelya newspaper in Tomsk, Siberia, set out in early January to celebrate Russia's week-long New Year-to-Orthodox Christmas holiday.

He wasn't looking for a scoop, just a good time. But what transpired next cost him his life.

After being taken in to the Tomsk drunk tank after a night of partying on Jan. 4, Mr. Popov was allegedly viciously beaten by a young police officer. Seven other attendants in the facility reportedly failed to intervene. Popov was subsequently taken to hospital and died Wednesday after spending two weeks in a coma.

Popov's death has had a sensational public impact, shining a media spotlight on the seldom-discussed yet routine nightmare of Russia's notorious drunk tanks and the impunity with which police allegedly abuse detainees.

His colleagues say the fact Popov was a journalist is the reason his story has reverberated in Russia's newspapers and blogs, though most doubt he was targeted specifically because he was a journalist.

"There have been any number of cases where people have been beaten, humiliated and even badly hurt at that drunk tank," says Alexei Sevostyanov, chairman of the Tomsk Union of Journalists and a close friend of Popov's.

"The fact is that this could have happened to anyone, in any Russian city, and it is one more piece of proof that our police institutions need to be reformed," Mr. Sevostyanov says.

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