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Belarus7 July 2002

New enquiry urged on 2nd anniversary of journalist Dmitri Zavadski’s disappearance

Reporters Without Borders and the Damocles Network called today for a new investigation into the disappearance of a young Belarus cameraman, Dmitri Zavadski, in Minsk on 7 July 2000. They noted that his body has still not been found and that serious doubts remained about the case despite the conviction this year of several members of the interior ministry’s Almaz special police, which guards the president.

They said they would support all efforts by his family to establish who was responsible for the kidnapping and probable murder of the journalist and repeated their demand for an independent enquiry and the intervention of the Council of Europe.

Zavadski was formerly the personal cameraman of President Alexander Lukashenko until 1996, when he resigned from the government-controlled TV station without the agreement of the authorities and joined the Russian station ORT. He was imprisoned for two months with an ORT colleague in 1997 after they reported on gaps in Belarus security along the country’s border with Lithuania.

In 2000, they revealed that a former member of the Belarus interior ministry special police, Valery Ignatovitch, was working with independence fighters in Chechnya. Ignatovitch and two other members of the special police were convicted on 14 March this year of murdering five people and being responsible for the journalist’s disappearance. The Belarus authorities said Ignatovitch had killed Zavadski because he had reported his presence in Chechnya.

Despite the plausibility of the suspected killer’s motive, many questions remain. A blanket of silence has fallen over the case since September 2000, when Vladimir Naumov, who set up the special police, was named interior minister.

The court in Minsk curiously made no effort to look for the journalist’s body or establish the circumstances of his kidnapping and probable murder. No journalist has been able to meet those involved in the case or attend the court hearings. The Zavadski family were only occasionally summoned to give evidence in court.

In a statement on 11 June last year, two former Belarus prosecution officials who had fled abroad - including Dmitri Petrushkevitch, who was in charge of the Zavadski case - accused the general prosecutor, Viktor Shayman, and the deputy head of the presidential office, Yuri Sivakov, of setting up a "death squad" in 1996, while they were respectively secretary of the national security council and minister of the interior. They said the squad was first told to eliminate underworld figures and then received more "political" missions. These accusations have never been investigated.

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