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Belarus -The Zavadski case25 March 2003

Press freedom groups call for reopening of investigation

Dmitri Zavadski

Reporters Without Borders and the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) have called for the investigation into the disappearance of Dmitri Zavadski, a Belarus cameraman for the Russian TV station ORT, to be reopened.

The official heading the enquiry, Ivan Branchel, told Zavadski’s widow, Svetlana Zavadskaya, in a 27 February letter, that the authorities had decided to stop looking for him because "he has not yet been found." He disappeared on 7 July 2000.

The two press freedom organisations wrote to Branchel pointing out that the decision was contrary to international legal norms and also deprived the Zavadski family (his wife, mother and son) of their right to know the truth about what happened to him.

They said ending of the investigation violated the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (resolution 47/133) of 18 December 1992, whose article 17 says that "acts constituting enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate and the whereabouts of persons who have disappeared and these facts remain unclarified."

Regional bodies such as the European and Inter-American courts of human rights have several times ruled that because enforced disappearance is by nature "continuous," states are obliged to keep on searching until the person is found.

Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ consider the trial that ended on 16 July last year with a life sentence for Valeri Ignatovich, former head of the interior ministry’s special police force, for being responsible for Zavadski’s disappearance, did not establish the exact circumstances of Zavadski’s enforced disappearance or identify those who ordered his kidnapping.

An ad hoc sub-committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly set up to investigate the disappearance of opposition figures in Belarus reported on 27 November last that the Belarus authorities had still not accounted satisfactorily for the journalist’s disappearance.

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 jailed 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, Zavadski revealed that Ignatovich, who had left the interior ministry police, was working with independence fighters in Chechnya. The Belarus authorities say he killed Zavadski for reporting this.

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