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 www.belaruspartisan.org 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.