20 January 2018, Saturday, 14:18

Thirteen years since journalist Dzmitry Zavadski’s disappearance


It has been 13 years on July 7 since the disappearance of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski. He was 27 when he went missing.

Mr. Zavadski, once Alyaksandr Lukashenka's personal cameraman, disappeared on July 7, 2000 at the Minsk National Airport, where he had arrived to meet Pavel Sharamet, his long-time colleague and friend. His car was found parked near the airport, but the journalist was never seen again. His alleged kidnappers, Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, ex-members of Belarus' elite Almaz police unit, were sentenced to life in prison in 2002, but they were found guilty of kidnapping, not murdering Dzmitry. The trial failed to establish what happened to him after his abduction. Although his body was never found, a district court in Minsk declared him dead in November 2003.

Dzmitry Zavadski resigned from Belarusian Television in 1996 to join Russia's ORT television network and was later briefly imprisoned for his reporting.

In an interview with BelaPAN, Hary Pahanyayla, a legal expert with the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, accused investigators of not doing enough to conduct a proper inquiry into the journalist’s disappearance. “Although they announced that Malik and Ihnatovich had been involved in the abduction, the two acted as part of a group of unknown people. Both are in prison and it is unclear why investigators cannot continue interrogating them to establish all circumstances of the case,” he said.

The rights defender questioned the conviction of Messrs. Malik and Ihnatovich, saying that evidence against them was inconclusive and too many questions remained unanswered in the case.

“The more time passes, the less the chance of the high-profile disappearances being solved,” he said, adding that some law enforcement officials knew the truth about the disappearances of Mr. Zavadski and some other political opponents of Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

“Authorities’ inaction is a telltale sign of their involvement in the crimes,” Mr. Pahanyayla said.

Many say that Mr. Zavadski was kidnapped and murdered by a government-run death squad.

Mr. Lukashenka has repeatedly denied his involvement and promised that Mr. Zavadski’s disappearance will be solved.

Speaking in an interview with a Russian newspaper last year, the Belarusian leader claimed that Mr. Zavadski had been murdered in an act of revenge by former members of an elite counter-terrorist unit over a report aired by Russian television.

According to Mr. Lukashenka, the commandos, who joined Russian military units for the war in Chechnya in the 1990s, were portrayed as militants hired by Chechen separatists in the report authored by journalist Pavel Sharamet. “The cameraman was killed and this provocateur Sharamet lives in Moscow and writes various nasty stuff about Belarus,” Mr. Lukashenka said.