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12/4/03 - BELARUS DISAPPEARANCES - 2003-12-04

Irina Krasovskaya is the wife of missing Belarus opposition figure Anatoly Krasovsky. On a recent visit to the U.S., she met with officials of the State Department and National Security Council as well as members of the U.S. Congress. They discussed the deplorable human rights situation in Belarus. Mrs. Krasovskaya also requested help in pursuing an independent investigation into her husband’s disappearance. Mr. Krasovsky was a well-known businessman and supporter of Belarusian democracy and human rights until his disappearance in September 1999.

Anatoly Krasovksy is not the only critic of the Belarusian government to have gone missing. There are credible reports that senior officials of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime were involved in the disappearance and presumed murder of journalist Dimitry Zavadsky in 2000. He disappeared at the Minsk airport while waiting for fellow journalist Pavel Sheremet. In 1997, both journalists were arrested by authorities for filming a documentary critical of the Lukashenko regime.

Belarusian opposition figures Yury Zakharenko and Victor Gonchar both disappeared in 1999 and are presumed dead. Mr. Zakharenko, former Minister of Internal Affairs, went missing after voting began on an opposition presidential election initiative. At the time of Mr. Gonchar’s disappearance, he was a high-profile anti-regime politician. No progress has been reported in investigating either case.

Mrs. Krasovskaya told U.S. officials that political repression in Belarus has increased. Among other things, she pointed to the Lukashenko regime’s crackdown on independent media, human rights monitoring groups, and other civil society organizations.

The political disappearances have had a chilling effect on opponents of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus. As Mrs. Krasovskaya said, “There is a lot of opposition -- but no action, because of fear.”

The U.S. will continue to press the Lukashenko regime to account for all those who have disappeared, to respect human rights, and to implement democratic reforms. A transparent investigation into the disappearances, said Irina Krasovskaya, would be “the first step to democracy” in Belarus.