Veronika Cherkasova

January 12, 1959 - October 20, 2004

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"People Never Lie As Often As Before an Election"

- an article by Veronika Cherkasova
The government of Belarus has failed to properly investigate the murder of Veronika Cherkasova, a well-known opposition journalist, stabbed in Minsk on October 20, 2004. Despite all the evidence suggesting Veronika was assassinated because of her professional activity, the authorities preferred to cynically and cruelly harass her family by naming her son, Anton Filimonov, and elderly stepfather, Vladimir Meleshko, suspects in their "investigation."

The investigators focused their efforts on pinning the crime on the 15-year-old Anton. Unable to build a credible case against the teenager, the authorities arrested him on charges of money forgery. In detention Anton was being pressured to "confess" to the murder of his mother.

Veronika's case is not an isolated incident. The authoritarian regime of president Lukashenko has also failed to investigate the murder of another opposition reporter, Vasily Grodnikov, as well as disappearances of prominent opposition figures and journalists, including Anatoly Krasovki, Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar and Dmitry Zavadsky, despite credible reports that senior government officials were involved. More information on the website of the Civil Initiative "We Remember"

Independent publications in Belarus have been particularly targeted by government repression. In 2005, at least fifteen independent newspapers were denied printing or distribution services by state-owned monopolies. While Mr. Lukashenko can attack other candidates with impunity on state media broadcasts, his opponents' media access is strictly limited. And Belarus's anti-defamation laws make it nearly impossible to criticize the government. (VoA: Civil Society in Belarus)

What sets Veronika's case apart is the unprecedented persecution of her family. The way in which the investigation has been conducted sends a message of terror to society and makes opposition activists and reporters fear not only for their own lives but also for the safety of their families.

MINSK -- The chief investigator of the Minsk Prosecutor's Office, Sergey Ivanov, said in an interview with the newspaper "Zvyazda" ("Star") that even though the investigation into Veronika Cherkasova's murder had been suspended due to inability to identify the perpetrators, the operative work on the case continues. "In my opinion, this case isn't hopeless, and its investigation can be brought to a logical end," he said.
Ivanov alleged that the murder was not a carefully planned or premeditated one, because "the killer used a knife that he found in his victim's kitchen. Had the perpetrator originally intended to murder Cherkasova, he would have brought his own weapon instead of relying on an accidentally found knife."
These comments come in the wake of the second anniversary of Veronika's death and preempt an appeal by the international journalistic community to conduct a fair and impartial investigation of the suspended case. The official investigation still considers domestic violence the main motive in the crime. [More info...]
BELARUS ranked 151 on RSF's Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006 - securing a spot between Yemen and Libya.
BRUSSELS -- The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) launch a special appeal to the authorities to re-open the investigation into the murder of investigative journalist Vieranika Charkasava.
[Join the Campaign to End Impunity for Vieronika’s Muderers. Download and send an appeal to reopen her case and bring her killers to justice.]
Friday, 20th October is the second anniversary of her murder. Since then the authorities' investigation involved six months attempting to pin the murder on her fifteen year old son and elderly stepfather. Having failed to build a credible case against either the authorities closed the investigation and then prosecuted and convicted her son for forgery. [More info...]
GENEVA (AP)--The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated steadily in the past two years, a U.N.-appointed rights expert said Tuesday, calling the detention and mistreatment of opposition activists and journalists a particular concern.
In his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body's top rights watchdog, Adrian Severin urged Belarus' government to put an end to the arrests, beatings and expulsions by police forces that have drawn a barrage of criticism from the international community in recent years.
He also urged the 47-nation council to "investigate the responsibility of senior officials of the government of Belarus in the disappearance and murders of several politicians and journalists." [More info...]
The prosecutor's office issued an official warning to a prominent opposition journalist Irina Khalip for publishing a series of articles on the presidential election in the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, accusing her of "defamation of the President of the Republic of Belarus" (Article 368 of the Criminal Code) and "discrediting the Republic of Belarus" (Article 369 of the Criminal Code). Violation of these articles can lead to 6 months of detention and is punishable by imprisonment for up to 2 years. [More info...]

Veronika Cherkasova (Belarusian: Веранiка Чаркасава; Russian: Вероника Черкасова; Alternative spellings: Vieranika Charkasava, Wieranika Tscharkassava) - a Belarusian opposition journalist, brutally murdered in her apartment in Minsk on October 20, 2004. Her body was discovered with over 40 stab wounds, most of them around the neck, and a knife blade stuck in her chest. The killer did not take any money or valuables but left a trace of blood in her address book.

Her last job was with an independent newspaper Salidarnasc. She had worked and written for a variety of Belarusian and Russian periodicals, often taking a sharply critical stance on the totalitarian regime in Belarus, and especially, the Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko. Veronika had published a number of articles in Russian press that were sharply critical of the president (such as A Dandy President and Reporter on a Leash) and might have been perceived by Lukashenko as "defamation".

Shortly before her death, Veronika started collecting information on Infobank (Belarusian bank accused by the US of handling Belarus' weapon sales to Iraq). 2 years prior to her death, Veronika went to Iraq at the invitation of Infobank as part of an information tour for a group of Belarusian journalists. Reportedly, all the photos she took during her Iraq trip disappeared from the apartment. [Analysis: Belarusian Journalist Investigating Iraqi Arms Sales On Eve Of Slaying...] (For background on Lukashenko's illegal weapon sales to state sponsors of terrorism, see recent article by Mark Douglas, International Herald Tribune: "Choke off Belarus's deadly arms trade")

On October 17, 2004, a referendum was conducted by Lukashenko to override constitutional term limits for his presidency. Independent observers and media reported that Lukashenko achieved his victory by fraudulent means. International organiszations and governments around the world issued protests, calling on Lukashenko, among other things, to stop the persecution of independent media and demanding an investigation of disappearance of opposition reporters and political activists. Veronica's murder coincided with these events.

All evidence indicated that this was a professional assassination. The results of an independent analysis presented in Sergei Satsuk's article in Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta demonstrated that the journalist was killed immediately and her body was mutilated and blood was sprayed around afterwards as if to maximize the horrific appearance of the crime scene. [Satsuk's article...]

However, the authorities chose to pursue a "domestic violence" hypothesis. Veronika's 15 year-old son Anton Filimonov and her chronically ill stepfather Vladimir Meleshko were named two main suspects in the investigation. The journalist's family, especially Anton, became subject of a systematic and cruel harassment. The teenager endured months of hostile interrogations, was destroyed morally and, as a result, suffered a nervous breakdown. His father had to take him out of the country to avoid a "psychiatric evaluation" at a closed facility ordered by the prosecutors. [complete timeline...]

Eventually, 6 months after the murder, Anton and Vladimir's suspect status was lifted. At the end of December 2005 the Prosecutor General's office closed Veronika's case "due to the absence of indictable suspects." A few days later Anton was arrested along with several teenagers on money forgery charges. While other boys were released almost immediately, Anton was placed into a preliminary investigation jail where he has once again been pressured to admit to the murder of his mother.

Veronika's parents published a public appeal as a desperate cry for help. Their letter stated that no investigation had taken place in more than a month of Anton’s detention and cited progressing kidney and heart problems that require immediate medical attention Anton cannot receive in jail. [appeal...]

On April 11, 2006, Anton was convicted and sentenced to 2,5 years of prison. Because of his age, the jail term is deferred by 2 years. His "accomplices" received similar convictions with 2 years in jail. Remarkably, Anton's neighbor, whose computer equipment was used for the alleged forgery, appeared in the case only as a witness. Anton's family described him as an instigator and, possibly, a provocateur in what might have been a set-up.

As Anton was convicted, the prosecutors decided to suspend Veronika's murder case. On May 16, 2005 Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and International League for Human Rights (ILHR) reported: "The investigation of Veranika Charkasava`s case has been put off again. The head of the criminal investigative force at Minsk Public Prosecutor`s Office Syarhey Ivanou informed BAJ about it. Diana Charkasava (mother) and Uladzimir Mialeshka (stepfather) said that the prosecutor's office failed to inform them about this decision. The investigation was suspended on March 14 "in connection with the fact that there was nobody who could be accused of the crime." (The investigation was suspended for the same reason at the end of December 2005 and got restarted at the end of February 2006.)" Read the full report in English or in Russian

Meanwhile an independent journalistic investigation has produced a new hypothesis: Veronika might have been targeted because she possessed information which, if revealed, would have compromised interests of several Belarusian big businesses with deep criminal roots. The analysis of possible motives was published under the title The Price of Life (A New Hypothesis of Veronika Cherkasova's Murder) was published on the website on April 10, 2006. [at this time, the article is only available in Russian...]

The findings of journalists' research have been quietly ignored by the official investigators. Although the case was closed on April 11, they failed to inform Veronika's relatives and colleagues of this decision until over a month later.


Belarusian Association
of Journalists


Delovaya Gazeta

World Association
of Newspapers

Without Borders

International Federation
of Journalists

Center for Journalism
in Extreme Situations

Civil Initiative
"We Remember"

United Civil Party
Charter '97

"Getting Away With Murder"
A Report on the Murder of Belarusian Journalist Vieranika Charkasava and How Her Government Let the Crime Go Unpunished (PDF)