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4 Sep, 2010 13:21

Belarusian opposition journalist’s death not suicide – colleague

In Belarus, the founder of an opposition internet site has been found dead in his residence outside the country’s capital Minsk. Although prosecutors cite suicide, his colleagues are not convinced.

Oleg Bebenin, who was missing since Thursday, was found in a noose and no suicide note has been found. Nevertheless, the Belarusian prosecution has cited suicide as the reason for his death.

“The autopsy has just been completed,” Sergey Kovrigin, prosecutor of Dzerzhinsk region of Minsk area, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying. “An examination confirmed the version of suicide.”

Kovrigin pointed out that the autopsy showed no body injuries except for a characteristic mark on Bebenin’s neck.

Minsk police press service chief Aleksandr Danilchenko told RIA Novosti news agency earlier that Bebenin’s body was found at his dacha in the Dzerzhinsk region in a noose.

“The body was hanging in a hand made noose, attached to a staircase leading to the second floor. There was an overturned stool nearby,” Danilchenko said.

There were no signs of violence or damage found, he added. Neighbors said that they had not seen anybody visiting the man on the eve of his death.

However, Oleg Bebenin’s colleague and friend Andrey Sannikov said that he does not believe that Bebenin committed suicide.

“I do not believe the official version. There was no suicide note, nothing suggested that he was heading in that direction,” he said. “He was a very active man full of plans. He is a prominent opposition journalist so he cannot be safe anywhere.”

“In the past he was threatened, assaulted and abducted. These are the realities of our lives. I do not exclude that authorities or special services could be implicated in this,” Sannikov added.

Anton Bespalov, political analyst from Voice of Russia radio station, thinks the Belarusian authorities' relations with the independent media have long been fraught.

“Actually after Mr. Lukashenko came to power there has been a number of strange, mysterious deaths and disappearances of opposition journalists and politicians. So, there is a version that Belarusian secret services might stand behind it – of course, we have no confirmation,” he said.

Former Member of the European Parliament Guillleto Chiesa told RT that the evidence so far suggests Bebenin did not take his own life.

“I believe this terrible situation is more similar to a killing than to a suicide. Even if we do not have sufficient information on this point, it is clear that it is a very serious blow and the result will be a very serious problem for the government of Belarus and president Lukashenko in the first place,” evaluated Chiesa. “Evidently, now there will be a very harsh reaction, justified to a certain extent and in any case understandable. Taking into account that the victim was [of the opposition] and one of the main duties of the government was to protect him – and this has not been done,” he added.

Journalist Oleg Bebenin set up his opposition website charter97.org back in 1998. He is survived by his wife and two sons