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Belarus20 October 2005

A year after Cherkasova’s murder, another journalist dies in suspicious circumstances

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Reporters Without Borders today said it was disturbed by the death of journalist Vassili Grodnikov of the opposition daily Narodnaya Volya whose body was found with signs of head injuries on 18 October, almost exactly a year after the murder of Veronika Cherkasova of the independent trade union Solidarnost, who very probably killed because of her work.

“We are very worried by the constant harassment of journalists and news media in Belarus as the 2006 presidential election approaches,” the organisation said. “The many arrests, the banning of news media and above all the death of two journalists in one year are clear evidence of the desperate plight of press freedom in this country.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “The investigations into Cherkasova’s death of 20 October 2004 and the disappearance of cameraman Dmitri Zavadski on 7 July 2000 have gone nowhere. We hope the same will not happen with the Grodnikov investigation and we call on the authorities not to rule out the possibility that he was killed because of his work.”

Grodnikov’s body was found in his apartment in a suburb of Minsk with his head covered in blood. The exact circumstances of his death are still unknown but there are grounds for suspecting he was killed in connection with his work.

His newspaper was forced to turn to a printer in the Russian city of Smolensk after its Belarusian printer suddenly refused on 1 October to continue printing it.

Cherkasova, who was stabbed to death in her Minsk apartment, was a general reporter, covering a wide range of subjects, but she also undertook investigative work on sects and organised crime and had recently written a series of article headlined, “The KGB is still watching you.” Shortly before her murder, she had been investigating the possibility that the Belarusian government sold arms to Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

Right from the outset, the police investigating her murder worked on the assumption that it was a crime of passion linked to differences within the family. Her 15-year-old son, Anton Filimonov, and her father-in-law were quickly identified as suspects.

On 31 January, a judge ordered a psychiatric examination of Filimonov to determine whether he was mentally disturbed at the time of his mother’s death. The order was rescinded on 9 March and then, on 18 April, the authorities said neither the son and or father-in-law were any more under suspicion.

But a member of the Minsk criminal investigation department reported on 18 October that DNA tests showed that blood found at the murder scene was Filimonov’s.

Cherkasova’s mother, Diana Cherkasova, told Reporters Without Borders she was surprised by this revelation just two days before the first anniversary of the murder, after the absence of any previous progress in the investigation. “This proves nothing,” she said. “My grandson is innocent. I suspect the investigators of trying to influence the media just as they were preparing to mark the first anniversary of my daughter’s death.”

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