Belarus urged to investigate death of journalist

Belarus has been urged by the European Parliament to conduct an independent investigation into the death of a leading journalist and opposition activist.

Oleg Bebenin, a 36-year-old father of two, was found hanged in his country house outside Minsk last Friday after the online opposition news portal he ran came under sustained pressure from the country's authoritarian government.

Belarusian police were quick to describe Mr Bebenin's death as suicide, suggesting that the journalist had been drinking heavily and then hung himself in a moment of despair. But friends and colleagues said they suspected foul play, pointing out that Mr Bebenin showed no signs of depression prior to his death and left no suicide note.

"Neither his recent behaviour nor his behaviour on the day of his death gave any indication that such a tragedy might occur by his own hand," opposition leader Andrei Sannikov told Russian state TV.

Mr Bebenin ran an online news portal,, which was highly critical of Belarus' neo-Soviet regime and of President Alexander Lukashenko who has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 1994. He was also working on the presidential campaign of opposition leader Andrei Sannikov who hopes to challenge Mr Lukashenko for the presidency in the next six months.

Belarus, with a population of 10 million, was memorably dubbed "the last remaining true dictatorship in the heart of Europe" by former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The OSCE European security watchdog said Mr Bebenin's death was a serious blow to the campaign for a free media in Belarus.

"His embattled website remains one of the few non-governmental sources of information, and its staff was subject to continued administrative pressure," it noted.


Partners: Social Network