October 4, 2004 – The US House of Representatives passes the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 calling, among other things, for the “withdrawal of politically motivated legal charges against all opposition figures and independent journalists in Belarus,” “[a] full accounting of the disappearances of opposition leaders and journalists in Belarus,” “[t]he cessation of all forms of harassment and repression against the independent media,” and “[t]he implementation of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus consistent with OSCE commitments.”
October 17, 2004 – Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenka claims 80% support in a referendum that amended the constitution to remove the term limits for his presidency. Independent exit polls report 70% of the votes against the proposed change. Observers speak of numerous election violations. Mass arrests of independent pollsters.
October 20, 2004 – President George W. Bush signs the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 and issued a statement saying that “The referendum campaign and concurrent Parliamentary elections were conducted in a climate of abuse and fear. OSCE and other observers have determined that this victory was achieved by fraudulent means. […] The Lukashenka regime has repeatedly responded to the peaceful expression of opposition with beatings, arrests and, in a number of cases, the disappearance of opposition leaders.”
Veronika Cherkasova, a reporter for an opposition newspaper Salidarnasc, is murdered in her apartment in Minsk.
8:45AM – Veronika who just returned from a regional trip phones her mother, Diana.
9:15AM – Veronika’s 15 year-old son, Anton Filimonov, speaks with her on his way to the “Akvabel” market to buy some computer parts.
10:00AM – Veronika doesn’t show up at the office and doesn’t answer any phone calls throughout the day.
10:20PM – Veronika’s son and stepfather, Vladimir Meleshko, alarmed by her colleagues and friends, come to the apartment and discover her dead body with over 40 stab wounds, most of them around her throat. The apartment is covered with Veronika’s blood but no money or valuables are missing.
October 21, 2004
3:00AM – Diana, Vladimir and Anton are taken to the Criminal Investigations Department for questioning. Anton is first questioned in the presence of his grandfather. He is then asked to wait in the hallway but instead another officer takes him to a different room where he undergoes a hostile and illegal one-on-one interrogation.
The authorities are quick to rule out any political motive. APN, a Russian news agency, quotes an administration official: "Veronika Cherkasova never had any sort of dangerous information and never plunged into any serious cases. A quiet woman didn't die the quiet death that, it seems, her fate would have dictated."
For the next several months Veronika’s 15 year-old son, Anton Filimonov, and chronically ill stepfather, Vladimir Meleshko, are interrogated for 3-5 hours a day. The family undergoes systematic harassment by the authorities.
October 27, 2004 – World Association of Newspapers (WAN) writes to president Lukashenko to express their outrage at the murder of Veronika Cherkasova. The letter mentions that “[a]bout four months ago, Ms Cherkasova wrote a series of articles entitled "The KGB is still following you", outlining the methods of surveillance the Belarusian Security Services use to monitor civilians’ activities.”
November 19, 2004 – Anton and Vladimir are officially named suspects in the murder case. However, the investigators focus mainly on Anton.
About a week later Anton is hospitalized with severe depression.
January 21, 2005 – An article in Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta "The Fear As a Plausible Motive, Or Who Murdered Vieranika Charkasava?" by Sergey Satsuk presents an independent analysis of available evidence. It lists evidence the prosecutors chose to ignore in their attempt to implicate family members: the electrical fuse box outside the apartment was tempered with, the expertise of blood stain patterns on the walls showed that it was sprayed after Veronika had already been dead, etc. The article also reveals that several months before her death Veronika resumed contacts with an Infobank executive whom she met 2 years earlier during her trip to Iraq in the midst of a scandal around the alleged weapon sales by Belarus to Saddam Hussein. It is known that Veronika was gathering information on Infobank which handled Belarus-Iraq finances.
January 31, 2005 – Senior investigator Chumachenko orders a “stationary” psychiatric expertise for Anton.
February 1, 2005 – a group of police investigators led by Chumachenko appear without any prior notice at Anton’s school to forcibly take him for a forensic psychiatric expertise. They are stopped by Anton’s teachers and grandparents.
February 2, 2005 – Anton’s father, Dmitri Filimonov, takes Anton to Moscow where he resides.
Deputy prosecutor for the city of Minsk Starovoytov orders a “complex forensic psychological-psychiatric” expertise for Anton. Prosecution justifies this order by a discrepancy between the teenager’s testimony and the investigation’s evidence.
February 7, 2005 - World Association of Newspapers (WAN) calls on President Lukashenko to halt the systematic harassment of Veronika’s family and to conduct a proper investigation. The letter states that an independent investigation has concluded that Ms Cherkasova’s murder was a professional assassination. Other recent evidence suggests that shortly before her murder Ms Cherkasova was investigating the alleged sale of arms by Belarus to Iraq.”
February 23, 2005 – The district court denies the appeal filed by Anton’s attorney to overturn the psychiatric expertise order.
March 4, 2005 – The decision of the district court is appealed by Anton’s attorney in the Minsk city court. The compulsory psychiatric expertise order is annulled.
April 18, 2005 – Anton and Vladimir’s suspect status is lifted. Prosecution cites “insufficient evidence” against them. It takes 10 days for the announcement to be delivered to the family. Anton returns to Minsk.
April 20, 2005 – Veronika’s mother holds a press conference to express dissatisfaction with the course of the investigation. She says investigators keep asking the same questions as 6 months ago.
August 21, 2005 – Office of the Prosecutor General of Belarus extends the “preliminary investigation” term of Veronika Cherkasova’s murder case.
September 8, 2005 – Presentation of the book Red on White, a collection of Veronika Cherkasova’s best articles and essays published in various Russian and Belorussian magazines and newspapers 1992-2004.
End of December, 2005 – the procecutor’s office suspends Veronika Cherkasova’s murder case investigation due to lack of an indictable suspect.
December 27, 2005 – Anton and several other teenagers are arrested while trying to buy cigarettes from a private street handler using fake money. Allegedly, Anton and his 22 year-old neighbor used a computer technology to make several small-denomination Belorussian ruble bills as a prank.
December 30, 2005 – All arrested teenagers in the counterfeit money case are released from jail except for Anton. Anton is incarcerated in an “Investigatory isolation facility” (SIZO) - a preliminary investigation jail. No investigatory actions take place regarding the “counterfeiting” case. Instead, Anton is subjected to a new cycle of harassment. The murder case investigators pressure him to “confess” and admit to the murder of his mother. Their threats include phrases like “You are in our hands now, we’ll do whatever we want with you.”
February 1, 2006 – several dozens of Belorussian journalists send a petition to the Minsk prosecutor Nikolai Kulik appealing to him to release Anton on bail. They cite serious problems with his health as the main reason.
February 2, 2006 – Anton’s grandparents make a public appeal as a desperate cry for help. The letter states that no investigation has taken place in more than a month of Anton’s detention and cites harassment and violations of the law, as well as progressing kidney and heart problems that require immediate medical attention Anton cannot receive in prison.
March 14, 2006 - Anton is released on bail.
The same day prosecutors suspend the investigation of Veronika Cherkasova's murder "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.)
Veronika's family doesn't find out about the suspension of the case until May.
April 10, 2006 - an independent exposé, published anonymously, suggests that Veronika was murdered because she possessed information which, if revealed, would prove damaging to some big business bosses. Article (in Russian)
April 11, 2006 - Anton is sentenced to 2.5 years in prison with a 2-year deferment for money forgery. His 'accomplices' receive 2 year sentences, while his neighbor whose computer equipment was used for the alleged crime only figures as a witness in the case. This brings about speculations of the neighbor's role as a provocateur in a possible set-up scheme.
May 17, 2006 - International League of Human Rights (ILHR) draws attention to the suspension of Veronika Cherkasova's murder investigation. "The Investigation of Veranika Charkasava`a Case Put Off Again" (in English, pdf format), based on the report of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (in Russian)
October 17, 2006 - The chief investigator of the Minsk Prosecutor's Office, Sergey Ivanov, says 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 a call by the international journalistic community to conduct a fair and impartial investigation of the suspended case. The official investigation still considers the crime a domestic violence incident. [More info...] (in Russian)