The persecution against independent voices must stop. The death of Aleh Byabenin must be investigated.

Press release
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Minsk-Paris, September 13, 2010 - FIDH and its member organisation Human Rights Center Viasna are deeply concerned about the ongoing repression against independent journalists and civil society activists in Belarus prior to the upcoming of the presidential elections which will take place in early 2010.

On September 3, 2010, well-known independent journalist Oleg Byabenin was found hanged in his country house in the outskirts of Minsk. Mr. Byabenin was the founder and head of the independent website of the independent website Charter-97 and a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. The prosecutor’s office of Dzyarzhynsk district has opened an investigation into the circumstances of his death. Law-enforcing agencies have declared that Mr. Byabenin committed suicide.

However, the unclear circumstances of his death cast doubts among his relatives, colleagues, and human rights organisations concerning the official version of the facts. No note explaining his suicide has been found, and according to an sms sent to his friends, Mr Byabenin planned to go to the cinema that evening. Moreover, according to the website Charter 97, during the initial inspection of the body "a constriction mark was found on the Mr. Byabenin’s neck , which can be a sign of both a suicide and of a violent death by suffocation or strangulation with a noose."
Souhayr Belhassen, president of FIDH, stated : "The fact that Mr. Byabenin had repeatedly been subjected to pressure and intimidation in the previous years for his activities as an independent journalist is indeed particularly worrying. A transparent investigation has to be opened on the circumstances of his death."

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek also called for a transparent investigation of this tragic death on September 5, 2010 and declared that Mr. Byabenin "was working to create a more democratic Belarus through his work with Charter-97."

Moreover, on September 6, 2010, Sviatlana Kalinkina, chief editor of the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volia, who had written a commentary on Mr. Byabenin’s death, received an anonymous message on a postcard of the campaign "Speak the truth" (a campaign organised by activists defending freedom of speech, which has been repressed by Belarusian authorities) threatening her of death: "Live in fear. The hunt after traitors has started. One more article like this and you will be f***ed up." Ms. Kalinkina, declared:"The card was not posted, but it was just put into my mailbox as a hint that senders know perfectly where I live. … Today, after Aleh Byabenin’s sudden death, the circumstances of which leave a lot of questions, this is not an attempt to intimidate me personally, but all the activities aimed at the creation of an atmosphere of tension and fear both in the journalistic community and society as a whole.”

FIDH and Viasna also recall that doubts are regularly raised by Belarusian and international human rights organisations concerning the independency of investigations conducted by the law-inforcement bodies, as for instance in the cases of disappearances and possible extrajudicial executions of political opponents of the Lukashenko regime, namely V. Ganchar, Yu Zakharanka, businessman A. Krasoyski and Russian TV operator Dmitry Zavadsky all of whom have disappeared. According to Ales Bialiatski, Vice-President of FIDH and President of Human Rights Center Viasna, "The lack of progress in the investigations of those cases causes general mistrust towards the investigation into the death of Oleg Byabenin. The pressure on independent voices in Belarus only reinforce this attitude."

FIDH and Viasna call upon Belarusian authorities to :
– conduct a prompt, comprehensive, impartial investigation into the death of independent journalist Oleg Byabenin and to present its results, including the material evidence and forensic examination, to Belarusian organisations, in particular to the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and to the international community;
– immediately stop the repression and threats against independent voices and civil society;
– respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

For further information, please contact:

FIDH: Fabien Maitre/Karine Appy : + 33 1 43 55 25 18

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