The BBC has lodged a protest with Russian authorities after journalists were beaten in a “coordinated attack” while working on a story in southern Russia. Journalists, including the BBC's Moscow correspondent Steve Rosenberg, were reportedly investigating reports of Russian servicemen being killed near the border with Ukraine.

In a statement, the broadcaster said “After filming in the city of Astrakhan, our team was assaulted by unidentified men in a co-ordinated attack. Our staff were badly beaten, their camera destroyed and then taken. After alerting the emergency services, the team was then taken to a police station for four hours of questioning after which they discovered that recording equipment – which was in their vehicle, at the police station – had been electronically wiped.”

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted the head of the Astrakhan Region interior ministry's press office Petr Rusanov as saying "a criminal case" had been launched after police had received a report of an attack on a cameraman who had been "beaten and robbed by unidentified persons."

Rosenberg filed a story on the BBC News website, detailing his investigation and the resulting attack. Writing about the fact that the interviews his crew recorded were deleted from their cameras while they were in police custody, he asks: “Why would anyone set out to destroy our material and to silence the sister of a Russian soldier?”

In recent weeks, Russian journalists have been attacked while attempting to report on the suspected secret burial of Russian soldiers killed while fighting in Ukraine, according to the Los Angeles Times

Journalistic advocacy group Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 148 out of 180 countries in their 2014 index of press freedom.