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OSCE Partial Inquiry Finds Belarusian Journalist's Death A Suicide

A mourner carries a portrait of Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin at his funeral in Minsk on September 6.
A mourner carries a portrait of Belarusian journalist Aleh Byabenin at his funeral in Minsk on September 6.
Forensic experts tasked by the OSCE to review an investigation into the death of a Belarusian opposition journalist have backed local authorities' conclusion that he hanged himself.

The Swedish and Norwegian experts were brought in after Minsk accepted an offer from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to look into the case of Aleh Byabenin, who was found hanged in September.

Byabenin's colleagues and opposition activists had cast doubt on the initial finding of suicide.

In a November 23 statement from the OSCE, the experts said that "on the basis of all the evidence and information available to them, the cause and manner of death was suicide by hanging. In the experts' view, there is no reason to believe that Byabenin was hanged after death."

The statement said the experts had conducted a "technical evaluation" of existing case material, not a full inquiry into Byabenin's death.

But it said they were able to meet freely with everyone they requested to see.

The experts also said they noted "some specific areas of possible further technical analysis that relevant Belarusian authorities may consider," without elaborating.

Some colleagues and supporters of Byabenin -- a co-founder of the human rights defenders' website Charter 97-- expressed disappointment with the OSCE conclusion.

Dzmitry Bandarenka, coordinator of the European Belarus movement, cast doubt on suicide as the cause of death.

"It is well known that he [Byabenin] was for a period of several months the recipient of death threats, threats of violence," Bandarenka told RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

"We say that Aleh Byabenin did not hang himself but instead was hanged. And there were other people at his summer home. This should have been investigated," he added.

Bandarenka said the experts had been used for political ends by the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka -- who is seeking another term in an election next month -- and its supporters in Europe.

Andrey Sannikau, an opposition presidential candidate who had worked with Byabenin, told RFE/RL the report left key questions unanswered.

"[OSCE experts] concurred with what was written in the documents -- but they did not carry out their own investigation, did not consider alternative scenarios," Sannikau said. "I consider this to be participation in some sort of game, rather than an authentic 'expertise.' What in fact did they confirm? That death occurred as a result of hanging. But we didn't dispute that. But whether it was a suicide or not still remains a question."

He added: "The experts' attention was drawn to various details, yet this was not reflected in their report. We know that no criminal case was opened. But we also know Lukashenka's remarks about this case. We know that the investigation is continuing and therefore will continue to insist on an authentic investigation."

In an interview earlier this month, Lukashenka said he was sure the case would be solved.

Former prosecutor Oleg Volchek told RFE/RL that the OSCE forensic experts' "limited powers" made their findings a foregone conclusion. He added that uncertainty over possible signs of injury to Byabenin and Belarusian authorities' inspection of the scene left "a great many questions" unanswered.

Read more in Belarusian here.
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