Belarus5 May 2006
Belarus authorities slated as file on missing cameraman Dmitri Zavadski is closed for a third time
Reporters Without Borders expressed its shock that the file into the 7 July 2000 disappearance of cameraman Dmitri Zavadski has been closed for a third time and accused the Belarus authorities of incompetence. The file was last reopened in April 2005.
The victim’s mother Olga Zavadskaya received a letter dated 3 May 2006 from the office of the prosecutor-general explaining that the case had again been closed on 31 March because the body of her son had never been recovered. An article in the Belarus criminal code does allow an investigation to be closed because of a “failure to find a missing person”.
Reporters Without Borders has for several years been urging the authorities to open an independent investigation, but instead they have chosen to bury it yet again.
Two people were jailed for life for kidnapping Zavadski in March 2002, during a trial condemned as a “farce” by the victim’s family. The trial failed to determine the exact circumstances of the kidnapping of the journalist or to identify the instigators.
US President George W. Bush met the cameraman’s wife, Svetlana Zavadskaya on 27 February 2006 and expressed his personal support for her quest for justice and her determination, along with others in Belarus, to fight for a return of freedom in the country.
8 July 2005
Police hit disappeared cameraman’s wife at demonstration
Svetlana Zavadskaya, the wife of disappeared TV cameraman Dmitri Zavadski, was hit in the face by a member of the interior ministry special forces during a demonstration in his memory yesterday in October Square in Minsk, and the photo of her husband she was waving was thrown to the ground.
Zavadskaya, who sustained a bruise to the temple, said she would file a complaint. "Everything that has happened in the past few years and the way the authorities have handled this problem show that people at highest government level participated in his disappearance," she said. This was the first time the authorities have dispersed a demonstration in her husband’s memory.
Anatoli Lebedko, the head of the liberal United Citizen Party and a possible candidate in next year’s presidential election, was one of the approximately 30 people who took part in the demonstration.
"We condemn the brutality against Svetlana Zavadskaya and we recall that the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur, Christos Pourgourides, has spoken of very serious suspicions about the implication of the authorities in this journalist’s disappearance and their desire to cover up the truth," Lebedko told Reporters Without Borders.
A cameraman working for the Russian broadcaster ORT, Dmitri Zavadski disappeared on 7 July 2000 at Minsk international airport, where his car was found.
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Regime’s failure to solve case of missing cameraman condemned on fifth anniversary of disappearance
7 July 2005
Read in russian
Reporters Without Borders today deplored the "silence and inaction" of the Belarus authorities in solving the disappearance of Belarusian TV cameraman Dmitri Zavadski and called for foreign experts to be allowed to join the investigation, which resumed on 4 April, a year after the case file was closed.
Zavadski, once President Alexander Lukashenko’s personal cameraman, vanished on 7 July 2000 at Minsk airport, where he had gone to meet a colleague. His body was never found. He had resigned from the government TV station in 1996 to join the Russian station ORT and was later briefly imprisoned for his reporting.
The worldwide press freedom organisation, along with the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), noted that Christos Pourgourides, the Council of Europe’s special rapporteur on missing people in Belarus, had voiced strong suspicions that the regime was involved in the disappearance and trying to cover up what happened. The two groups said Zavadski’s family had a right to know exactly what had been done to find him over the past five years.
The case has twice been closed by the authorities, first on 27 February 2003, before being reopened on 10 December that year, officially because of "a need to continue the investigation," and then on 31 March 2004. An official of the public prosecutor’s office, Ivan Branchel, announced on 7 April this year it had resumed again three days earlier.
"This latest decision is clearly a bid to head off international criticism of how the case has been handled," Zavadsky’s wife Svetlana told Reporters Without Borders. "It was announced not long before the UN Human Rights Commission condemned rights violations in Belarus."
The family has never properly been involved in the case by the authorities or been told how the investigation is going, and still does not know if two members of the interior ministry’s special police force given life sentences in 2002 for kidnapping and presumably murdering Zavadski pleaded guilty and said what happened to him and where his body is. The family also does not know if the accomplices named at their trial gave any such information to investigators either.
"I’m now waiting for the investigators to tell me what they’re planning to do this time," Zavadski’s mother Olga told Reporters Without Borders.
The supreme court sentenced the former head of the interior ministry’s special police force, Valery Ignatovich, and one of his subordinates, Maxim Malik, on 16 July 2002 for presumably killing Zavadski and five other people in 2000.
The authorities claimed Ignatovich decided to kill Zavadski because he felt targeted by an interview the journalist gave the daily Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta in 2000 saying he had met Belarusians fighting with independence fighters in Chechnya. The trial did not establish details of the kidnapping or who ordered it.
Pourgourides said in a 27 January 2004 report that three top officials were suspected in the disappearance of Zavadski and three other people and charged that action had been taken at the highest government level to deliberately conceal what happened.
The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly urged the Belarus government on 28 April to open an independent enquiry into the disappearances and to sack Viktor Sheyman, the prosecutor-general and former head of national security, who it accused of organising them.
The Assembly’s resolution (1371) also called for Sheyman and the then interior minister, Yuri Sivakov, and Dmitri Pavlichenko, head of a special police unit, to be placed under legal investigation. It also urged an enquiry into the involvement of several top officials in obstructing justice so as to protect those who planned the crimes.