Index on Censorship is deeply concerned by the reported suicide of one of Belarus’s leading journalists and human rights activists, Aleh Byabenin. Byabenin was found dead in his country house on the outskirts of Minsk yesterday (Friday 3 September) at 5.30pm local time by a family friend. No suicide note was found.
As one of the leading lights of human rights organisation Charter97, Byabenin had been harassed by the authorities on numerous occasions. In April 1997 he was abducted, reportedly by the KGB, and in September 1999, he was nearly beaten to death by far-right thugs with links to the KGB. Byabenin ran the Charter97 website, which is the leading non-state source of news and analysis in Europe’s last dictatorship. It comes just 2 months after the implementation of Decree No. 60 a draconian law that strictly regulates the use of the internet in Belarus.
Mike Harris, Public Affairs Manager of Index on Censorship, who is currently in Belarus said:
“People in Minsk are very nervous, especially those close to Aleh. No suicide note was found, and Aleh just hours before his death had made phone calls to arrange a trip to the cinema with close friends. In recent months he had become increasingly concerned over the safety of fellow human rights activists and feared a return of the atmosphere of 1997-1999 , when many dissidents disappeared in suspicious circumstances, and Aleh himself was nearly killed.”
“The Presidential election must take place before February next year. The screw is tightening the screw on human rights organisations, with arrests and mock executions of youth activists. This death has sent shock waves through civic society across Belarus.
“I was supposed to meet Aleh today to discuss human rights violations in Belarus. His death is a real blow.”
The Russian media is claiming that the death is likely to have been under the orders of the security services.
In the last year, Charter97 has faced constant intimidation from the authorities. On 6 December 2009, Yahen Afnagel, a youth leader, was kidnapped on the streets of Minsk and taken to the countryside to face a mock execution. Afnagel was told to stop asking questions of the authorities. Six youth leaders in total in 2 months were subject to kidnappings and mock executions.
On 16 March, Aleh Byabenin had his computer confiscated as part of an indictment in a criminal libel case brought by a former KGB officer.