The Irish Times view on the death of a Belarusian dissident in Kiev: the long arm of Lukashenko

The EU must move to extend the limited sanctions already in place against Belarus’s dictator

Belarusians living in Ukraine along with their supporters and Ukrainian activists hold placards during a rally in memory of dead Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov in front of the Belarusian Embassy in Kiev on Tuesday. Photograph: Stepan Franko/ EPA

Belarusians living in Ukraine along with their supporters and Ukrainian activists hold placards during a rally in memory of dead Belarusian activist Vitaly Shishov in front of the Belarusian Embassy in Kiev on Tuesday. Photograph: Stepan Franko/ EPA

 

The death of Belarus dissident Vitaly Shishov (26), found hanged in a park near his Kiev home, is being investigated by the Ukrainian police, who have already suggested the possibility that it was a “murder masked as a suicide”. If it was indeed murder, as his friends insist, the finger of guilt will point straight at the brutal regime of Alexander Lukashenko, which has a long record of eliminating dissidents and has shown only recently its willingness to break international law with impunity.

High-profile investigative journalist Pavel Sheremet died in Kiev in July 2016, blown up by a car bomb. Journalist Georgy Gongadze, who exposed official corruption, was murdered in 2000, his headless body discovered in a wood. In 2010 founder of Belarus dissident group Charter 97, Oleg Bebenin, was found hanged at his weekend home outside Minsk. And the still unresolved disappearances of four Belarusian dissidents in 1999-2000 has also been linked to the regime. A Council of Europe report pointed to “steps taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true background of the disappearances”.

In violation of international law in May, Belarus forced down a Ryanair plane en route from Athens to Lithuania that was carrying Roman Protasevich, a blogger who worked for a website that helped direct anti-government protesters last year. He remains under house arrest.

The nature of the regime has also been highlighted by the attempted forced repatriation of sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya at the Olympic Games after she criticised her team management. She has been offered political asylum in Poland and flew to Austria yesterday.

Shishov, director of refugee aid at NGO Belarusian House in Ukraine, had claimed that he was being followed and joked about his death being a good advert for the group. If linked to the regime, the EU must move to extend the limited sanctions already in place against Belarus, and intensify pressure on Vladimir Putin to break from Lukashenko, whose survival after 27 years in power depends entirely on the goodwill of Moscow.

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