Chernobyl critic faces court for 'bribery'

January 7, 2000

Yuri Bandarzheuski, former rector of a medical institute in the Belarussian city of Gomel, faces charges of having taken bribes to let students through entrance exams.

But the prosecution case can find no direct evidence against him. No one is willing to admit to having bribed him, although the investigators have offered immunity to anyone who comes forward voluntarily.

The reason, according to his supporters, is not that the students concerned are afraid to speak out but that the charges are faked. His true offence, they say, is to have published articles on the results of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which the authorities would prefer to hush up.

The Chernobyl power station lies just across the frontier in Ukraine and some 70 per cent of the fall-out came down in Belarus.

Dr Bandarzheuski's research established a direct correlation between radiation absorbed and pathological changes to the liver, heart and kidneys. He warned that Belarus faced a demographic disaster.

The last straw for officialdom was Dr Bandarzheuski's criticism of the Minsk Clinical Institute of Radiation Medicine for its mishandling of funds for research into Chernobyl. He was arrested shortly after on bribery charges and held for four months.

Dr Bandarzheuski's health is poor, partly because of his work in contaminated areas, and his case attracted interest from international human rights activists in Russia as well as from scientific and medical colleagues in western Europe and the United States. Eventually he was released on December 30 but the charges still stand.

Acting on the recommendations of a ministry of health commission, the provincial administration has conducted an inquiry at the institute and decided to "review the basic scientific direction" of the institute - a euphemism for downgrading Chernobyl-related research.

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