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11 November 2005

The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Adrian Severin, issued the following statement today in Geneva:

The Special Rapporteur expresses deep concern over the deaths of journalists Veranika Charkasova and Vasil Hrodnikau in Minsk over the past year.

Vasil Hrodnikau, a freelance correspondent of Narodnaya Volya newspaper, was found dead by his brother on 18 October 2005 in his house in Zaslaul, a town in Minsk district. Apparently, Mr. Hrodnikau died of a traumatic brain injury. Based on information received, authorities have consistently harassed Narodnaya Volya this year because of its criticism of President Aleksandr Lukashenko. State-run kiosks are reportedly not permitted to sell the newspaper and authorities recently ended its printing contract, forcing it to use a printer in a neighboring Russian city. On 19 October Mr. Hrodnikau told the press that his brother had been murdered because of his work for Narodnaya Volya, and that he had already survived an attack in January. Narodnaya Volya editor-in-chief Yosif Seredich said that Hrodnikau wrote mostly about social issues, and had links neither to the authorities nor the opposition.

Veranika Charkasova was stabbed to death in her apartment in Minsk on 20 October 2004. Ms Charkasova had investigated alleged arms sales of Belarus to Iraq and had published a series of articles on the methods of surveillance used by the Belarusian Security Services to monitor civilians’ activities; the investigation into her murder has produced no conclusive results.

These cases follow that of Dmitri Zavadski, a cameraman with television station ORT, who disappeared on 7 July 2000, and on whose fate the Belarusian authorities have failed to shed light.

The Special Rapporteur urges the Government of Belarus to take all necessary measures in order to clarify the murders of Charkasova and Hrodnikau and bring those responsible for these crimes to justice. The Special Rapporteur also appeals to the Government of Belarus to put an end to the systematic harassment and persecution of non-State media and to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Belarus.