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Belarus21 October 2004

Press freedom takes a new pasting after elections

Reporters Without Borders has voiced alarm as working conditions plunged to a new low with security forces arresting and beating journalists during elections and then at opposition demonstrations.

Some foreign television journalists also complained that they were prevented from relaying their footage to viewers abroad.

The worldwide press freedom organisation recalled that President Alexander Lukashenko is on its international list of press freedom "predators".

Trouble broke out in central Minsk on the evening of 19 October 2004 as hundreds of opposition demonstrators rallied to condemn the results of legislative elections and the constitution referendum, that allows the president to run for a third consecutive term in office.

A cameraman with Russian NTV television Konstantin Morozov, was beaten up by anti-riot police inside a building where security forces had taken opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko.

The journalist was thrown to the ground and kicked repeatedly. His camera was destroyed and witnesses described seeing him with his face covered in blood. Vladimir Koscin, a cameraman with Russian REN TV, was also brutally beaten.

Among around 50 people detained during the night was AP photographer Sergeï Grits. He was immediately released after saying he was a journalist. "They told me that reporters were obstructing the work of the police and that I should have kept further back. I replied that if I had done that I would have been unable to take any photos," he said.

Polish journalist Hanna Harasimowicz of Informator Kulturalny magazine was arrested on 16 October in Bykhau in the east of the country while visiting a polling station. She said elections officials became extremely agitated when she asked them how many people had voted during the week. She was questioned for one hour about why she had such an interest in electoral procedure.

Several foreign TV correspondents said it had been impossible to broadcast their footage on 19 and 20 October.

A crew from Russian Perviy Kanal television said on 20 October that they had been unable to get out footage of a second day of opposition demonstrations. Belarus radio and television that normally relays footage claimed there had been a technical hitch. Russo-Belarus group Mir, which relays footage by satellite, also turned them down after the 19 October demonstrations that were brutally put down.

Reporter with the Perviy Kanal crew Dmitry Novozhilov, said, "It is impossible to send any footage from Minsk even without the elections and referendum. They always give the same excuse: technical problems.

Reporter for REN TV Elena Slav said that from 19 October Mir staff gave technical problems as their excuse for not relaying footage to Moscow. "At 9.30pm we were due to send footage of Anatoly Lebedko being beaten up, but we were told not to come to the studio because our film could be seized," she said, adding that other TV crews had encountered the same problem.

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