Belarus7 July 2004
Dmitri Zavadski’s case : four years of impunity
Reporters Without Borders and the Belarus Association of Journalists demand justice for the missing cameraman following the Council of Europe revelations
Four years after the disappearance of Dmitri Zavadski, on 7 July 2000 and with the investigation now closed, those responsible have still not been found and the possible implication of the highest levels of government has still not been properly investigated.
The young cameraman’s body has never been recovered and aspects of the case remain murky despite the conviction in 2002 of two members of the interior ministry’s special units.
Reporters Without Borders and the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) expressed their dismay at the determination of the authorities to do everything in their power to cover up the truth.
"The evidence is overwhelming of the part played by the authorities in the disappearance Dmitri Zavadski. If Belarus wants one day to join the Council of Europe it will have to take the unavoidable step of holding an independent investigation to establish all the guilt in this case," the two press freedom organisations said.
Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ welcomed steps taken by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which recently established the implication of the authorities in the journalist’s disappearance.
On 28 April 2004, the PACE called on the international community to "exert maximum political pressure on the current leaders of Belarus, including through sanctions" to obtain an independent investigation into the disappearance of four people in 1999 and 2000. These were: Yuri Zakharenko (former interior minister), Victor Gonchar (former parliamentary deputy speaker), Anatoly Krassovski (businessman) and the journalist Dmitri Zavadski.
"The information gathered by the rapporteur leads it to believe that steps were taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true circumstances of the disappearances, and to suspect that senior officials of the state may themselves be involved in these disappearances," the assembly concluded.
The Council of Europe’s special rapporteur for Europe, Christos Pourgouridès, in a report published in January 2004, referred to serious suspicions of involvement of three officials in the journalist’s disappearance, as well as in similar cases involving public figures. These officials were: Prosecutor-general Viktor Sheiman, who was former head of the National Security Council and Yuri Sivakov, then interior minister and now minister for sports and tourism, and Dmitri Pavlichenko, commander of a police special unit.
Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ support in particular the following demands:
The resignation, because of an unacceptable conflict of interest, of the prosecutor-general Viktor Sheiman;
The opening of an independent criminal investigation with the priority of examining the parts played by Viktor Sheiman, Yuri Sivakov and Dmitri Pavlichenko;
Examination of the responsibilities of several high-ranking officials in the perversion of the course of justice, in order to protect the true perpetrators of the crime;
To keep the family of the missing person fully informed of the progress and results of the investigation.
At the beginning of April 2004, Svetlana Zavadskaya, wife of the missing journalist, received a letter telling her that the investigation into his disappearance had been closed because "the missing individual had not been found". The general prosecutor’s office had earlier, on 27 February 2003, decided to close the investigation before reopening it on 10 December, giving no official justification, apart from "the need to pursue the inquiries".
Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ called unsuccessfully on the prosecutor-general Viktor Sheiman, to give Zavadski’s family reasons in writing why the officer in charge of the case, Ivan Branchel, decided to close the case.
The organisations also called on the prosecutor’s office to list what steps had been taken to find the journalist and also what inquiries had been initially planned but not carried out and why not.
Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ felt the family had the right to know if the two members of the interior ministry’s special services, who were convicted of the kidnapping after a secret trial before the Supreme Court, had pleaded guilty and given information about the fate of the journalist after the kidnapping as well as the spot where his body was buried.
The family also does not know if accomplices to the abduction who were referred to during the trial had been identified and if they had been able to provide any information.
The KGB did not respond to a request from the wives of the four missing men, including Svetlana Zavadskaya, asking them to take action against high-ranking officials suspected of links with these crimes.
Dmitri Zavadski disappeared In Minsk on 7 July 2000. A former personal cameraman to President Alexander Lukashenko, he left his job at State television in 1996 to work for the Russian channel ORT. He was imprisoned for two months along with a colleague, in 1997, after reporting on weaknesses in Belarus security along the border with Lithuania.
On 16 July 2002, the Belarus Supreme Court confirmed a life sentence against Valery Ignatovich, former head of special units at the interior ministry and a subordinate, Maxim Malik, for abduction and disappearance of the young cameraman and for the murder of five other people.
According to the official version of events, Ignatovich decided to seek revenge against Zavadski because he felt himself the target of the journalist’s remarks, when he said in an interview in 2000 with the daily Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, that he had met Belarus nationals fighting alongside separatists in Chechnya. The trial did not allow the exact circumstances of the journalist’s kidnapping to come out nor did it identify those who ordered it.