Belarus human rights defender’s flat raided over murder. Coincidence or political pressure?

On January 3, the apartment of the Belarusian human rights activist Aleh Volchak was searched. The police were looking for traces of a woman who was an acquaintance of his brother. However, Volchak names the house-checks unfair and demands an apology.

Aleh Volchak is a former сivil investigator in the so called death squad case, he is a representative of the family of Dzmitry Zavadski, a journalist who was kidnapped in 2000. He recently appeared in a movie by Deutsche Welle where he reflects on the murders of Lukashenka’s political opponents in 1999-2000.

How did the body remains lead to Volchak?

On January 2, Minsk cleaners found a sports bag containing two human arms in the river of Svislatch. At the same time, the police was informed of a woman who went missing in the city. Aleh Volchak, whose apartment is located nearby, received a call from the law enforcement officials who announced the upcoming search.

Human remains in bag found in Svislach river. Phot.

When Volchak arrived at the apartment, the policemen could barely clarify the reasons for the house-check. Later, Volchak found out that the search was related to the case of the missing woman that recently met with his brother, and whose arms might have been found in a bag. However, there has been no evidence that they belong to the same person.

Neither Volchak nor his brother resides in the apartment, they inherited it from parents. This and other details Volchak explained in the video he recorded after the house-checks.

On January 6, the Ministry of Internal affairs informed that they detained a 26-year-old foreigner as a suspect in the case of the murder of the woman whose arms were found in the Svislatch river. On January 8, the police reported that they found the other woman who met with Volchak’s brother. So, the two cases had no relation to the Volchak family. Volchak considers that the search was offensive and he will demand an official apology and exclusion of his name from the case files.

Role of DW documentary

Many believe that Volchak’s house checks have a relation to his recent comment for the documentary of Deutsche Welle. In the much-talked-about movie released in December, Volchak commented on the death squad, a group that was allegedly involved in the murders of Lukashenka’s opponents in 1999-2000.

The interview by Deutsche Welle focuses on Yuri Garavski, supposedly a former member Belarusian SOBR (Special Rapid Response Unit), who uncovered details of the assassination of Lukashenka’s opponents in 1999-2000. He confessed to participating in murders of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, ex-Chairman of the Central Election Commission, and businessman Anatol Krasouski.

Yuri Garavski, phot. Deutsche Welle

There are those who suggest that Garavski’s confession might have had a relation to Kremlin, targeting Lukashenka’s authority within the country. The majority of Belarusian public figures though believe that Garavski is telling the truth. As an example, Belarusian journalist Artsyom Shraybman claims that the negative effect of the documentary on the Belarusian authorities is rather minor.

Aleh Volchak, in a comment to RFE, highlighted that according to the details described (people involved, weapons, burial places) Garavski can be trusted. All of the facts correspond with information that Volchak found out when working as a civil investigator.

Two days after the documentary was published, Volchak received the corresponding report that informs on the decision of the Belarusian Investigative Committee to reopen the case of Yury Zakharanka. However, the Committee rejected a request to renew the investigation of Dzmitry Zavadski’s case.

There is no evidence that the search of Volchak’s apartment was related to the documentary and his role in the death squad investigation. However, Volchak mentions it was not a coincidence that the law enforcement searched his flat despite the lack of legal reasons.

Alesia Rudnik,