Post-mortem to determine cause of Belarusian activist's death

Minsk/Moscow - A forensic examination is to be carried out to determine the cause of death of a prominent Belarusian opposition activist, a spokesman for the human rights group Charter 97 said Saturday.

The body of Oleg Bebenin, one of the founders of Charter 97, was discovered at his summer cottage, not far from the capital Minsk, on Friday.

The cause of his death, just months before presidential elections and in a country where journalists and human rights activists have died mysteriously, is unclear.

"Oleg Bebenin's body will be taken for a post-mortem," the Charter 97 spokesman said.

According to the Interior Ministry in Minsk, initial investigations revealed no evidence of a violent death. Police are still investigating.

Bebenin was the former deputy chief editor of Imya, an independent Belarusian newspaper. In 1998, he founded, a website that is critical of the government of President Alexander Lukashenko, who is often referred to by human rights activists as "Europe's last dictator."

In May, Belarus' authoritarian government unleashed a series of home searches against opposition activists, arresting a number of government critics temporarily.

Masked policemen carried out the nationwide raids over several days in the widest-reaching crackdown against dissent in the former Soviet republic in two years, opposition spokesmen said.

Lukashenko ordered the raids personally in preparation for an election next year. The president late last year imposed state censorship of the internet.


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