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Belarus7 July 2003

Third anniversary of Dmitri Zavadski’s disappearance - Reporters Without Borders and BAJ call on Belarussian judiciary to do its duty

On the third anniversary today of the disappearance of Dmitri Zavadski, a cameraman with the Russian TV station ORT, Reporters Without Borders and the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) condemn the silence and inaction of the authorities in this case and their refusal to shed light on the suspected role of senior officials in his disappearance.

Zavadski’s body has still not been found and the circumstances of his disappearance have still not been clarified, although several former members of interior ministry special units were convicted in connection with his disappearance last year. The independent press and foreign news media are meanwhile coming under growing pressure.

Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ again urge the authorities to reopen the case and warn that they will continue to remind the Belorussian judiciary of its duties until the facts of the case are established.

The two organisations wrote on 25 March to Ivan Branshel, who is in charge of the investigation, asking him to reopen it. They received no reply. Branshel had told Zavadski’s wife Svetlana Zavadskaya in a 27 February letter that he had decided to close the investigation because "the missing individual has not been found." Reporters Without Borders and the BAJ point out that, given the continuing nature of the forced disappearance, the authorities are required by the European Court of Human Rights to carry on investigating until the victim is found.

In the two organisations’ view, the trial that ended on 16 July 2002 with life imprisonment being passed on Valery Ignatovitch, the former head of the interior ministry’s special police force, did determine the exact circumstances of Zavadski’s disappearance or identify who ordered his abduction.

The Belarussian authorities claim that Ignatovitch decided to take revenge on Zavadski because of an article he wrote in 2000 revealing that Ignatovitch had joined the independence fighters in Chechnya. However, a special sub-committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly that was set up to investigate the disappearance of opposition figures in Belarus reported on 27 November 2002 that the Belorussian authorities had still not given satisfactory responses on Zavadski’s fate.

Furthermore, two former members of the prosecutor’s office who fled abroad, one of whom was Dmitri Petrushkevic, the person in charge of the Zavadski case, alleged on 11 June 2001 that Viktor Sheyman, the prosecutor-general, and Yuri Sivakov, the deputy head of the presidential office, had formed a "death squad"in 1996 when they were secretary of the security council and interior minister, respectively. This group was allegedly tasked initially with eliminating organised crime chiefs before being given "more political" missions. The allegations have never been investigated.

Zavadski disappeared on 7 July 2000 at Minsk airport. His car was found in the airport car park. He was President Lukashenko’s personal cameraman until he resigned from the government-run TV station in 1996 and went to work for ORT. He was imprisoned with an ORT colleague for two months in 1997 after reporting gaps in Belarus’ security along the border with Lithuania.

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