Russian Public Television Cameraman Disappears; CPJ Calls for Immediate Search

Click here to read more about press freedom conditions in BELARUS

New York, July 12, 2000— The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the disappearance on July 7 in Minsk, Belarus of Dmitry Zavadsky, a cameraman for Russian Public Television (ORT).

According to local and international sources, Zavadsky has been missing since he failed to keep a scheduled late morning rendezvous at the local airport with his long-time colleague and friend Pavel Sheremet. According to some reports, Zavadsky was seen inside the airport not long before the arrival of Sheremet’s flight from Moscow. Zavadsky’s car was found locked and parked outside the airport building. A search for Zavadsky by local police and officials from the prosecutor’s office proved futile.

Sheremet, former ORT Minsk bureau chief who now heads the station’s special information projects department in Moscow, recently traveled to Chechnya with Zavadsky. The two journalists were filming a four-episode documentary, “The Chechen Diary,” to be aired beginning on July 10.

Sheremet and Zavadsky’s wife told reporters that shortly after Zavadsky had returned from Chechnya, he began receiving phone calls from an unknown man who insisted upon a meeting.

The disappearance last year of several political opposition figures in Belarus makes this latest disappearance of a journalist particularly alarming.

“In the absence of any concrete information, we don’t know whether Dmitry is a victim of abductors. In the climate of fear and persecution in Belarus today, it’s possible he has gone into hiding,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Regardless, we are very concerned about Dmitry and urge Belarus authorities to conduct an immediate and thorough search for him.”

Zavadsky had been President Alexander Lukashenko’s personal cameraman. In the summer of 1997, Sheremet and Zavadsky were detained by local police. and received a suspended sentence for allegedly violating the national border, while filming a documentary about smuggling between Belarus and Lithuania.