ROAR: “Third force” suspected in Belarusian journalist’s death

Belarusian opposition journalist Oleg Bebenin could have fallen victim to “a third force,” the Russian media assume.

Bebenin, 36, the founder and director of opposition “Khartia’97” (Charter’97) news website, was found hanged on Friday in his country house in the Dzerzhinsky District near the country’s capital, Minsk.

“For Belarus, the death of an opposition activist is not a rare thing,” daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote. But this case is especially painful, it added. “According to the Belarusian investigators, Bebenin committed suicide, but his friends and relatives do not believe this theory.”

“Bebenin was not simply a journalist,” the paper said. “He was the founder and head of one of the most well known and most viewed opposition website.” Moreover, Oleg should have led the campaign of opposition presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov. Bebenin had a wife and two little sons, he was “full of strengths and ideas,” the paper noted.

Sannikov, the leader of the European Belarus civil campaign, said he doubted Bebenin’s suicide. His friends do not believe the investigators’ theory either.

The question then arises as to who was most interested in Bebenin’s death, the daily asked. “The first answer that comes to mind is the authorities, as his activities hindered them,” the paper wrote. “But however strange this may be, this fact is the alibi for President Aleksandr Lukashenko’ regime,” the paper assumed. The Belarusian leader was recently blamed for disappearances of Belarusian opposition activists, and documentaries concerning these cases were shown in Russia.

After that, it would be “insane to remove” another man disliked by the authorities, the daily said. “Even many opposition activists do not believe that the Belarusian leadership could have been involved in this case.”

Thus, another theory emerges, and it is linked to the recent attack with Molotov cocktails against the Russian embassy in Minsk, the paper said. “It seems that a certain third force has appeared in Belarus,” it noted. This force works independently, but “as if on behalf of Lukashenko, and always to his disadvantage,” the paper said.

The media also quote President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek as saying that Bebenin had been fighting for a “more democratic Belarus.” The Belarusian authorities should carry out a full and transparent investigation in the case, Buzek stressed.

Khartia’97 is considered “the most implacable media resource of the Belarusian opposition,” Kommersant daily said. In the 1990s, Bebenin worked as the deputy editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Imya (Name).

“After his investigations in 1997, unknown people seized Bebenin in the center of Minsk, drove the journalist to a forest, tied him to a tree and threatened to shoot him unless he ‘starts to write less’,” the paper wrote.

In 1998 the authorities closed Imya, and Bebenin set up Khartia’97. “However, in recent years Bebenin withdrew from public activity,” Kommersant said. “According to the source close to the Belarusian opposition, he was mainly engaged in working with sponsors.”

The leadership of the European Belarus civil campaign, the work of which Bebenin took part, first did not want to comment on what happened, the daily noted. “But after the official theory was published, the organization’s leadership expressed their doubts.

“Bebenin had no problems in family or at work, and he had just returned with his family from vacation in Greece,” European Belarus’ head Andrey Sannikov told the paper.

According to Sannikov, Bebenin was to be appointed the head of his presidential campaign prior the forthcoming elections. “We had great plans, we met every day. The whole coming week was scheduled,” Sannikov said. “And a man who is going to commit suicide does not write [SMS messages] to his friends and does not agree on meeting with them,” he added.

The authorities “hastened to publicize” their theory, Sannikov was quoted by Interfax as saying. “There was no note, there had been no indication that this would happen,” he added.

Meanwhile, Belarusian law enforcement agencies said on Monday that they had detained six people suspected of organizing the attack against the Russian embassy on August 30.

Earlier, President Aleksandr Lukashenko noted that Moscow could have been behind the attack to compromise him. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday described these remarks as “obscene”.

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT