Ukraine: Belarusian journalist assaulted and tortured

The wife of Belarusian journalist Denis Staji who was assaulted and tortured by unknown persons in Ukraine last month, has spoken out about the attack against him. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemned the attack and have urged the authorities to take immediate steps to investigate the case and bring those responsible to justice.

Denis Staji  had moved to Ukraine in 2018 and contributed to the Ukrainian news websites EnergoBusiness and Delovaya Stolitsa. His wife, Victoria Lavnikevich, and son were on a two-week trip to western Ukraine when they lost contact with Staji on 9 April. After three days, Lavnikevych returned to Kiyv and found him in their flat, unconscious and wrapped in rubbish bags, with signs of abuse all over his body. She explained. "It was very difficult to remain silent about what happened for several weeks. I was asked very much in the interests of the investigation not to publish this information earlier. Now, finally, I can do it", she added.

In photos Lavnikevich posted on social media, Staji can be seen with deep bruises on his arms, torso and feet, and lacerations on his back, ribs and buttocks.

"Judging by his condition, he was tortured and beaten for several days in a row. He was wrapped in rubbish bags, with a blanket over his head, his mouth full of dirt and a clear mark of handcuffs on his wrists. He was especially beaten on his head, ribs, kidneys, arms, legs and toes. There were knife cuts: on the ribs, back, buttocks", Lavnikevych said.

After finding him, he was taken to hospital and the doctor said that he had been poisoned by an unknown substance, but after two days it was not possible to establish its composition. It caused severe damage to the nervous system and half of the lungs. Staji was forced to drink a mixture of alcohol with barboval and septil, and that he was probably injected with methadone or scopolamine, according to his wife. She found a needle from a syringe with traces of an unknown liquid in the rubbish bin, alongside used cotton wool.

Lavnikevych noted that the flat was destroyed, but no valuables or money were missing. "This suggests that the main purpose of the attack was not theft: the information is missing. There is reason to believe that one of the tasks of the attack was to take control of the Telegram channels and chats that we created for Belarusians in Ukraine, which we stopped moderating last autumn because of threats, and which we were forced to moderate again because of the war in Ukraine. The second task was to physically eliminate Denis after receiving the necessary information", she said.

She claims that the reason for the attack could be Staji's launch over the past few years of a large network of Telegram channels and chats for Belarusians in Ukraine, which began with the channel "Adventures of Belarusians in Kiev" . This network has become the largest media outlet covering the Belarusian diaspora in Ukraine, says Lavnikevych.

Recently, two activists in Belarus have been eliminated in a completely identical manner. 

IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said: "We strongly condemn this clear act of intimidation and torture against Denis Staji. We call on the authorities to take urgent steps to investigate the case and punish those responsible''.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries

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