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Official Byabenin Probe Closes Amidst Doubt

Belarus -- A woman holds a portrait of Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin at his funeral in Minsk, 06Sep2010
In a statement issued on December 3, the U.S.- based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern over the findings of a probe into the death of Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin that ruled the journalist's death a suicide.

Byabenin, founder of the Minsk-based pro-opposition website Charter 97, was found hanged in his summer house on September 3.

Last week prosecutors closed the investigation, reporting no evidence of foul play.

Friends and family members of Byabenin have disputed the suicide verdict, raising questions about the motives attrributed to Byabenin and aspects of the autopsy. CPJ reports that several colleagues who published information challenging the official account have received anonymous death threats.

An OSCE technical assessment supported the official findings. In response to an invitation from Belarusian authorities, the international human rights organization sent experts to assist with the investigation. On November 23, the experts issued a statement that also identified the cause of death as "suicide by hanging," and said that on the basis of their assessment, "there is no reason to believe that Byabenin was hanged after death." The experts did not conduct a full inquiry.

The CPJ statement calls for an independent investigation into the journalists' death.