Missing Belarusian Activist Is Found Dead in Park in Ukraine
A Belarusian anti-government activist was found dead in a park near his home in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Tuesday and police said they had opened an investigation to determine whether it was murder or d ‘suicide.
Activist Vitaly Shishov disappeared on Monday after going out for a morning jog, said his colleagues, who accused Belarusian authorities of killing him. On Tuesday, Kiev police said he was found hanged in the park and their investigation included the possibility that the death was “murder disguised as suicide”.
“The full picture of events will be confirmed after questioning of witnesses, analysis of video recordings” and other stages of the investigation, police said.
Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Belarus’ authoritarian leader since 1994, has long suppressed dissent in his country and jailed thousands after large-scale protests against his regime last year. Now, the events of the past few weeks have signaled that he is also stepping up his campaign against the growing number of Belarusian exiles abroad.
In May, Lukashenko forced the landing of an airliner with an exiled Belarusian activist on board and arrested him. A Belarusian Olympic sprinter asked for protection at an airport in Tokyo on Sunday as her country tried to force her home after the Summer Games. She said she feared for her safety after criticizing her coaches and the country’s National Olympic Committee.
Mr Shishov was the director of the Belarusian House in Ukraine, an organization that helped those trying to escape repression in Belarus after the anti-government protests in the summer and last fall. He was 26, according to local reports.
While the circumstances surrounding Mr. Shishov’s death remained murky, critics of Mr. Lukashenko quickly pointed the finger at his authoritarian regime.
“It is worrying that those fleeing Belarus still cannot be safe,” Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the Belarusian pro-democracy opposition leader who fled the country last year after claiming victory in a presidential election , said on twitter.
Mr. Shishov disappeared after jogging at 9 a.m. near his home in Kiev on Monday, colleagues from Belarusian House said in a statement. Since he fled to Ukraine last fall, according to the statement, he has organized aid for other exiles, organized protests against Lukashenko and called on Ukrainian authorities to support the Belarusian diaspora.
Last week, according to his Facebook posts, Mr. Shishov helped organize a rally in Kiev marking the 31st anniversary of Belarus’s independence from the Soviet Union.
His colleagues said he believed he was being followed and that supporters in Belarus had warned him of potential threats to his life. He jokingly replied that if anything happened to him, it could help his organization get the much-needed attention.
“Vitaly faced these warnings with stoicism and humor,” the organization said. “There is no doubt that this was an operation organized by a spy to liquidate a Belarusian who was really a danger to the regime.”
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