It is three years today since charter97.org web-site’s founder Aleh Biabienin died.
These were three endless years. Having clenched our teeth, we covered the electoral campaign, then ended up in prisons, then were compelled to go to emigration. Today we keep working, but the events of that day 3 September 2010 will always stay in the memory.
Aleh’s worried wife called me in the morning. He did not spend the night at home. He did not come to the office either, although at 7 a.m. he would usually be at his working place. We started calling acquaintances, then hospitals, police stations… No results. In the end, Aleh’s brother and his friends Andrei Sannikov, Dzmitry Bandarenka, Fiodar Pauliuchenka and Aliaksandr Atroshchankau went to the summer house. They found Aleh there…
I remember, when Aliaksandr Atroshchankau called me and told everything, I almost bit through my own hand in order not to scream. Then came a storm of phone calls from journalists. One of them, a reporter of Russia TV channel Andrei Kachura called from Moscow and said “Natasha, tell me it is not true”. More than anything else in the world I wanted then to tell him: “Yes, Andrei, it is not true”.
Aleh was found in a noose, made of a child hammock’s rope. He was not hanging, he was practically on his knees. The skin on finger knuckles was scratched, everything in the summer house was in perfect order. Nothing was scattered, everything cleaned and washed. There were two bottles of Belarusian Balsam demonstratively standing in the corner. A connoisseur of good alcohol, he would even disdain take a taste of that.
Later, already in morgue friends will see scratches and bruises on his body. But the investigation would not be interested in that. Aleh will be fast buried, and the version of a murder for professional reasons will not even be considered. Even a criminal case will not be started. The official verdict – suicide.
It did not matter that this person loved his wife, son and life. On the day before he was going to go to a cinema with friends, made appointements with colleagues for a week ahead, agreed to be one of the managers on Andrei Sannikov’s electoral campaign, who by that time had already announced his intention to run for president.
The case was quickly hushed up, including by the efforts of some Western ambassadors, who invited so-called OSCE experts to Minsk. European bureaucrats, suspecting nothing, spoke with prosecutor office’s employees, studied the official investigation’s materials and returned the same verdict as the law enforcement agencies, controlled by the authorities. At that time a “dialogue” of the West and Lukashenka was going ad nothing, even a murder of a journalist, should not cloud this process.
I remember as journalists, politicians, human rights activists approached me at the funeral and they all said the same: “If anything, keep in mind that I am not going to commit suicide…” Everyone, who knew Aleh well, did not believe in the official investigation’s version.
Everyone was scared. The way Aleh was killed showed that the authorities could not only kidnap and kill their opponents, like it happened with Viktar Hanchar, Jury Zakharanka, Anatol Krasouski, Dzmitry Zavadski. In the period of a “dialogue” with the West they would kill slier, masking murders as suicides, car crushes, accidents.
With Aleh’s murder the authorities tried to reach several goals: the death of one of the managers of Sannikov’s team was supposed to scare his supporters and those, who were going to join Lukashenka’s rival electoral campaign. This was also supposed to scare journalists of independent media, having shown them the limits, which the charter97.org web-site constantly violated, publishing revealing articles, despite criminal case had been started against it and the editorial office raided.
In three months, when I was in KGB jail, Ihar Shunievich, who is now the Minister of Internal Affairs, personally confessed to me during a night interrogation, that Aleh was killed. “We are considering the version, that his murder was beneficial for some foreign countries for destabilizing the situation before the elections”, - the general then said with an air of importance.
No other state, apart from Belarus, did not benefit from Aleh’s murder on the eve of the elections. But the fact remains a fact – the head of KGB’s corruption and organized crime department, future Minister of Interior confessed that the journalist was killed.
It only seems that KGBsts are marvelous psychologists. They can also be observed and respective conclusions can be made. From time to time during interrogations the prison’s head, colonel Arlou, made a slips of the tongue saying that the murders of politicians and journalists was not KGB’s did, but the one of “other agencies”, which actually confirmed the fact that “death squads” existed in the country and eliminated people by the order from someone “above”.
You can surprise no one in today’s Belarus with that. All the law enforcement agencies are submitted to a single grouping led by Lukashenka and his son Viktar. They are just servants. If someone is murdered, their task is to close their eyes and conceal all traces of a crime. If there is an order to arrest someone, they do.
Today it is quite funny to read the analysis of KGB’s legal complaints on Uralkali’s director general Vladislav Baumgartner. KGB does not have any complaint on him! There is a political order to take a hostage. All the rest is the matter of technicalities, which has been practiced very well on political rivals.
In a criminal state it is the lawfulness and kingpin’s will that rule. Europeans and Russian alike should have long understood that instead of trying to bargain, please or reform someone, who have long crossed all the moral borders.
Today all the world’s attention is on Assad, who is killing hundreds thousands fellow citizens. Lukashenka, who has been murdering people much more quietly for 20 year with no missies and chemical weapons, keeps nicely existing in the shadow.
It hurts that not many remember Aleh today, even colleagues. Aleh Biabienin was not just a journalist, he was a wonderful father, loyal friend, loved his family, his cause and fought for his country. He lost his life.
We will remember you, Aleh.
Natalia Radzina, charter97.org’s editor-in-chief