Lukashenko’s long arm
The death of Belarusian dissident Vitaly Shishov (26), found hanged in a park near his Kiev home, is under investigation by Ukrainian police, who have previously suggested the possibility of ‘a “murder disguised as suicide”. If it was indeed a murder, as his friends insist, the finger of guilt will point straight at the brutal regime of Alexander Lukashenko, who has a long history of eliminating dissidents and has not shown only recently his desire to violate international law with impunity.
High-level investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet died in Kiev in July 2016 from a car bomb. Journalist Georgy Gongadze, who denounced official corruption, was assassinated in 2000 with his headless body found in a wood. In 2010, the founder of the Belarusian splinter group Charter 97, Oleg Bebenin, was found hanged in his weekend home outside Minsk. And the still unresolved disappearances of four Belarusian dissidents in 1999-2000 have also been linked to the regime. A Council of Europe report highlighted “measures taken at the highest state level to actively cover up the real context of the disappearances”.
In violation of international law in May, Belarus forced the downing of a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Lithuania carrying Roman Protasevich, a blogger who worked for a website that helped lead anti-government protesters the year last. He remains under house arrest.
The nature of the regime was also highlighted by the attempted forcible repatriation of sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya to the Olympics after criticizing her team’s management. She was offered political asylum in Poland and flew to Austria yesterday.
Shishov, director of refugee aid at the NGO Belarusian House in Ukraine, said he was being followed and joked that his death was good publicity for the group. If linked to the regime, the EU must extend the limited sanctions already in place against Belarus and step up pressure on Vladimir Putin to break with Lukashenko, whose survival after 27 years in power depends entirely on goodwill from Moscow.