Man's Disappearance Spurs Wife's Activism

When Irina Krasovskaya dropped by her husband's office one September day three years ago to bring him a change of clothes before he went to a sauna with a friend, she had no reason to suspect it would be the last time she would ever see him.

But her husband, a businessman named Anatoly Krasovskiy, apparently was in the wrong place at the wrong time, she said.

The friend with whom her husband went to the sauna happened to be a prominent leader in the opposition to Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, and that night in 1999 happened to be the night that the secret police chose to silence him, she said.

Her husband's presence in the car with Viktor Gonchar, the former deputy chairman of the Belarussian legislature who was dismissed by Lukashenko, only strengthened the message the government wanted to send, Krasovskaya said.

"He was the friend of a very prominent politician — Gonchar was a real threat to the president," Krasovskaya told ABCNEWS.com. "That night I think it was the purpose of the authorities to show, to make people fear being friends with political leaders or to support them."

Krasovskiy and Gonchar are among the dozens of people — politicians, journalists and human rights activists — who have disappeared, died under mysterious circumstances or been imprisoned indefinitely on questionable charges under Lukashenko, according to human rights groups.

The U.S. State Department, in its most recent Belarus Human Rights Country Report, criticized the Lukashenko regime for using security forces and the Presidential Guard as instruments of repression.

A spokesman at the Belarussian Embassy in Washington denied any government involvement in the disappearances and pointed out that four men have been tried and convicted of kidnapping the journalist Dmitry Zavadavsky, who has never been found.

"The government of Belarus has been making a lot of efforts on the disappeared people and we are interested in finding out the truth about them," the spokesman said. "The Belarussian government has been doing a lot on this. Unfortunately there are not many results, but that does not mean nothing is being done."

At a recent debate with Russian Energy Minister Anatoly Chubais that was broadcast in Russia, Lukashenko defended his policies and said his government was closer to European values than the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Reporters at the debate, however, got a rare chance to challenge him directly when he said that he supported a free press and was creating better conditions for everyone in the country.

"This is a lie, Aleksandr Grigoryevich [Lukashenko]. And I have the feeling it's not the Russians who are living in virtual reality, but you," said Marina Kalinkina of the Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta (Belarussian Business Gazette). "You present fairy tales about how the country is flourishing, about privatization, about how everything is wonderful here. You don't have any oligarchs. You imprison the directors of the poorest collective farms. You have no one left to imprison, no one left to take money from."

Neither the bodies of Krasovskiy and Gonchar nor the jeep they were driving in that night have ever been found, but Krasovskaya said she was told by a former Belarussian prison guard who was responsible for the pistol used in executions that the night of her husband's disappearance that he issued the weapon to secret police officers, who used it on Krasovskiy and Gonchar.

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