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Belarus8 April 2005

Call for real probe into Zavadski disappearance after officials say old investigation is being reopened

Reporters Without Borders warned today that it would not be satisfied with an announcement made just for effect after learning that the office of the Minsk state prosecutor said for the second time in two years that it is reopening the investigation into the July 2000 disappearance of cameraman Dmitri Zavadski.

The prosecutor’s office announced the reopening of the case in a letter yesterday to the victim’s mother, Volha Zavadski.

(JPEG) "The Belarus authorities should not reopen the case with the sole aim of trying for a short while to silence the criticism coming from the international community," the press freedom organization said. "They have a duty to conduct a transparent, exhaustive and independent investigation aimed at clarifying all the aspects of Dmitri Zavadski’s disappearance. His family has been waiting for nearly five years to find out what happened."

Reporters Without Borders said it reiterated its call for a proper investigation as spelled out in resolution 1371 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). "There are still very murky areas to this case, despite the 2002 conviction of two members of the interior ministry’s special units, and the Council of Europe’s recommendations have still not been heeded."

Zavadski’s wife, Svetlana Zavadskaya, dismissed the announced reopening of the case as just an opportunistic move by the Belarusian authorities, who are currently in the sights of various international bodies. It came just a few days after the UN human rights commission announced on 29 March that it will look at abuses in Belarus.

Exactly a year ago, in early April 2004, Zavadskaya received a letter from Ivan Branchel, the official in charge of the investigation that is supposed to find her husband, telling her that it had been closed because "the disappeared individual has not been found."

Zavadski disappeared on 7 July 2000 at Minsk airport. He was President Lukashenko’s personal cameraman until he resigned from the government-run TV station in 1996 (without the government’s permission) and went to work for the Russian TV channel ORT. He was imprisoned with an ORT colleague for two months in 1997 after reporting the existence of gaps in Belarus’ security along its border with Lithuania.

On 16 July 2002, the Belarus supreme court upheld a life sentence on the former head of the interior ministry’s special units, Valery Ignatovich, and one of his subordinates, Maxim Malik, for the kidnapping and presumed murder of Zavadski and for the murder of five other people.

The public prosecutor stopped the investigation in February 2003, then resumed it on 10 December of the same year because of international pressure. The case was closed again on 31 March 2004.

Council of Europe special rapporteur Christos Pourgourides wrote in a January 2004 report that there were serious grounds for suspecting that the authorities were involved in Zavadski’s disappearance and were trying to cover it up.

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