A death in Minsk should sound the alarm bells

Mike Harris from Index on Censorship went to Minsk in the beginning of September to meet Belarusian civil society activists including journalist Aleh Byabenin. It had never happened. One of the founders and a leader of charter97.org website had been found hanged in his summer cottage. In his article for The Independent * Mike Harris reflects on the death of his colleague and the political climate of Lukashenka’s Belarus.

Europe’s shame: the dictatorship of Belarus
A death in Minsk should sound the alarm bells

By Mike Harris
The Independent

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

I landed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, last Friday to meet the journalist Oleg Bebenin and other civil society activists. On Monday I attended Oleg’s funeral.

One of Belarus’s leading journalists, he had been found hanged in his country home earlier on Friday. His beloved 5 year old son’s hammock was around his neck, hung so low that his feet touched the ground. Andrei Sannikov, of the human rights group Charter97, the organisation Bebenin co-founded, was one of the first at the scene. He has grave doubts about the coroner’s suicide verdict. “No suicide note was found, and his last SMS to friends showed they planned to go to the cinema.”

Bebenin’s associates suspect foul play and talk through tears about a man who devoted 15 years to fighting President Aleksander Lukashenko’s dictatorship, and was in no mood to quit. In hushed tones everyone fears a return to the period between 1997–99 when activists, business and journalists suddenly “disappeared” without trace.

VB

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