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IFJ LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO END IMPUNITY IN JOURNALIST'S MURDER

Two years after Belarusian journalist Veronika Cherkasova was brutally stabbed in her Minsk apartment on 20 October 2004, her murder remains unsolved. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) have now launched a campaign to end the impunity surrounding her case.

IFJ and BAJ have written to Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko urging him to re-open the investigation into Cherkasova's murder.

Earlier this year, Belarusian authorities closed their investigation after failing to pin the murder on her 15-year old son, Anton, and his stepfather. The two individuals were the first to find Cherkasova's body on 20 October and were immediately identified as the prime suspects.

Having failed to make a convincing case against Anton, authorities arrested him and charged him with forging counterfeit money. IFJ believes the charges are spurious. On 11 April 2006, Anton was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.

Several journalistic investigations have revealed that prior to her murder, Cherkasova had started researching allegations that the Belarus Infobank had been involved in illegal weapons sales to Iraq, notes IFJ. Infobank?s accounts had been frozen in the US in August 2004 and Cherkasova had participated in an Infobank-organised visit to Baghdad. The photos from that trip were the only items missing from her apartment after her body was discovered.

As part of its campaign, IFJ has invited its affiliates around the world to write letters to the Belarusian government and put pressure on authorities to re-open the Cherkasova case (see sample letter: http://www.ifj.org/docs/appeal1.doc).

It has also released a report about the case, which casts doubt on the Belarusian government's commitment to solving the murder.

Cherkasova is not the only murdered journalist whose case remains unsolved by authorities. No one has been brought to justice in the killings of Zmitri Zavadski, who disappeared in 2000, and Vasil Hrodnikau, who was killed in 2005.

The impunity surrounding these cases highlights the severe lack of press freedom in Belarus, says IFJ. Since Lukashenko came to power 11 years ago, independent journalism has been all but eradicated. Journalists who criticise the government have been bullied, fined and imprisoned. Legal measures have been introduced making it increasingly difficult to openly criticise the government.

Private media have been barred from using the national printing press and distribution systems, forcing several newspapers to print and distribute from Russia. Today, most private media have been forced to move solely to Internet-based operations.

Visit these links:
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=4276&Language=EN
- IFJ Report on Cherkasova Murder: http://www.ifj.org/pdfs/GettingAwayWithMurder.pdf
- BAJ: http://www.baj.ru
- Veronica Cherkasova Memorial Site: http://veronikacherkasova.org/
- Reporters Without Borders: http://www.rsf.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_en_bd.pdf
- Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=251&year=2006
- International Press Institute: http://tinyurl.com/ygp57a

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