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Belarus22 June 2004

KGB deports Ukrainian freelance journalist

Reporters Without Borders and the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ) voiced outrage at yesterday’s expulsion of Ukrainian freelance journalist Mikhail Podoliak for allegedly trying to "destabilize" Belarus in articles critical of President Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime.

Members of the KGB (the Belarus security service) burst into Podoliak’s home at 7:00 a.m. with an expulsion order and gave him 15 minutes to get ready. He was then bundled into a train with several KGB agents and taken to the Ukrainian border. He has been banned from visiting Belarus for the next five years.

"This utterly arbitrary measure harks back to the grim practices of the Stalinist era," Reporters Without Borders and BAJ said. "We are alarmed at the steady deterioration in respect for press freedoms in Belarus, where independent journalists are systematically harassed, especially by the KGB," they added.

The KGB said Podoliak was expelled because "the materials published in the newspaper contained libellous fabrications about the state of affairs in the country and appeals to destabilize the political situation in Belarus".

Podoliak wrote regularly for the weekly Vremia and was well-known for his analytical and investigative articles, especially about relations between Belarus and Russia and about leading associates of President Lukashenko.

Two journalists with the Russian television station NTV were expelled as undesirable in 1997 and 2003. Podoliak was fined 7,300 euros on 2 August 2002 for allegedly defaming the chairman of the Committee of State Control, Anatoly Tozik.

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