Aleh Byabenin, 36, founder and director of the Minsk-based pro-opposition news website Charter 97, was found hanged in a stairway in his summer house outside the capital, Minsk. The journalist’s brother discovered the body after Byabenin stopped responding to phone calls.
Authorities immediately said the journalist had committed suicide after drinking heavily, an account Byabenin’s colleagues disputed. Charter 97 staffers told CPJ that Byabenin had left no suicide note, was in excellent health, and had just returned from a family vacation in Greece. Dmitry Bandarenko, a friend who saw the body, told CPJ that Byabenin’s right ankle was badly wrenched and that he had unexplained bruises on his left hand, chest, and back. Bandarenko and others said it appeared that police had conducted only a cursory investigation at the scene.
Facing media criticism and protests from Byabenin’s colleagues, prosecutors acknowledged a week later that the editor could have been murdered. Authorities reopened the investigation but announced in December that they had found no evidence of foul play. CPJ and other media groups called for an independent investigation.
Byabenin’s website had long been at odds with authorities. Charter 97 often reported on government wrongdoing, including human rights abuses, corruption in the security services, and opposition activities. Its coverage had been met with police interrogations of journalists, confiscation of equipment, politicized audits, and debilitating cyber attacks. Shortly before his death, Byabenin agreed to participate in the presidential campaign of an opposition candidate, Andrei Sannikov.