Killing of Journalist Sparks IFJ Concern Over “Wave of Hatred” in Belarus

The International Federation of Journalists today called for an independent investigation into the killing of an opposition journalist in Belarus and warned that the regime of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was in danger of “unleashing a wave of hatred” against opposition voices as protests continued over controversial elections at the weekend.

The family of Veronika Cherkasova said today that the body of the 44-year-old journalist, who has worked for independent media outlets for the past 15 years, was discovered by her stepfather Vladimir Melezhko last night. He said she had many stab wounds.

Cherkasova was working most recently for the newspaper Solidarnost, a trade union newspaper, which she joined in May 2003. Trade unionists in the country have raised the alarm over the killing because the paper’s editor-in-chief Alexander Starikevich was allegedly sacked from the newspaper of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, after the Government managed to establish their control over the Federation.

Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, said that he had asked the Belarus Association of Journalists, the IFJ affiliate in the country, for a full report amidst concerns that the killing may be linked to recent clashes between opposition protesters and police.

“We are worried at the prospect of a wave of hatred being unleashed against democratic opposition. Violence against journalists is very often the result when an atmosphere of intimidation overtakes society,” said White. “We need a full and independent investigation of this killing and those responsible brought to justice.”

The IFJ says that the street violence since Sunday’s controversial referendum, in which 77 percent of those who voted apparently agreed to scrap the two-term limit on presidents, allowing Lukashenko to maintain his ten-year grip on power, has resulted from angry confrontations between police and opposition protestors.

Despite official claims about the election result, international observers and an independent exit poll suggest the voting was neither free nor fair.

Thousands of young Belarusians have held noisy protests and on Tuesday evening police detained at least 30 people as a crowd of about 300 students marched protesting over the election. Associated Press photographer Sergei Grits, who was covering the event, also was briefly detained and released.

The IFJ international executive board is meeting in Brussels this weekend and will discuss what steps to take to support journalists in the country.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries