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Belarus13 April 2006

All journalists now released but opposition members still detained

The ordeal is over for the Belarusian and foreign journalists who were caught up in the wave of arrests that followed the protests against President Lukashenko’s reelection last month. The last journalists still in detention were freed in the past week. Opposition candidate Alexandre Kazulin, who was accused of hooliganism for taking part in the demonstrations, is still being held and faces up to six years in prison. Five more people were sentenced on 10 April to sentences of 10 to 15 days in prison on similar charges.


8 April 2006

Six journalists freed in the past 24 hours

Reporters Without Borders voiced relief today at the news of the release of six journalists who had been imprisoned for covering demonstrations that were banned by the Minsk authorities. Canadian freelance journalist Frédérick Lavoie, who reports for the daily La Presse, left Minsk prison last night accompanied by two Canadian consular officials. He was due to be deported.

After being freed this morning in Minsk, cameraman Georgiy Lagidze of the Georgian TV station Channel I told Reporters Without Borders he was still under the shock of being sentenced to two weeks in prison. Photographer Artiom Liava of the weekly Nasha Niva was released a few hours before him from Okrestina prison after serving a two-week sentence for covering the 24 March pro-democracy demonstrations.

Russian reporters Eduard Glezin and Oleg Kozlovskii of the newspaper Pravoe Delo and Aleksandr Podrobinek of the independent news agency Prima News were also released yesterday and deported by the Minsk authorities.


4 April 2006

Nine journalists still held

Eleven journalists have been released since 31 March, while nine other Belarusian and foreign journalists are still in custody. They are expected to be released by the weekend.

Sergei Salash of the magazine Offside was due to be freed today. So too were Ukrainian journalist Andrij Lukka of Karpatski Holos and Ivan Roman, a freelance correspondent for www.solidarnost.org, the website for the former weekly Solidarnost.

Canadian freelance journalist Frédéric Lavoie, photographer Artiom Liava of the weekly Nasha Niva, Aleksandr Podrobinek of the Russian news agency Prima-News, and two Russian journalists with the newspaper Pravoe Delo, Eduard Glezin and Oleg Kozlovskii, are due to compete their sentences on 7 April.

Finally, Georgiy Lagidze of the Georgian public broadcaster OGT is supposed to be freed on 8 April.

There have been no reports of sentences being extended since the start of the arrests. Releases have been taking place as scheduled, despite threats by the authorities.


30 March 2006

List of imprisoned journalists lengthens as the authorities vow they “will not give way”

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Three more journalists have been imprisoned, bringing to 20 the number currently detained, all of them accused of “hooliganism”. Daria Kostenko, a freelance Belarussian journalist was arrested in an overnight roundup on 23-24 March and sentenced to ten days in prison. Two Russian journalists, Glezin Eduard and Oleg Kozlovskii, of the periodical Pravoe Delo, were arrested on 27 March, most likely at the same time, and have been sentenced to two weeks in a custody centre.

According to information gathered by the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), a total of around 40 journalists, about a score of them foreign, have been arrested by the authorities in Belarus from 14-27 March. They are accused of taking part in opposition rallies. Six of them have been released since then after serving sentences of up to five days in prison. Several others have been released after being briefly detained and at least three others were sentenced to pay a fine.

Polish, Georgian, Russian, Ukrainian and Canadian journalists are among those being held. On 29 March the spokesman for the Belarus Foreign Ministry, Maria Vanchina, said that Belarus would “not give way” to what the authorities termed “blackmail” on the part of the Canadian government. Canada has been trying to secure the release of the young stringer, Frédérick Lavoie, who has been held since 24 March. A tense standoff has developed between the two countries and the Belarus authorities accuse the Canadian journalist of not being officially accredited to cover the elections.

Reporters Without Borders points out that the government in Minsk has been being undertaking a protracted screening process of accreditations that foreign correspondents are obliged to obtain, since the start of 2006. The organisation has been told by several journalists, including freelances like Frédérick Lavoie, that they had no choice but to enter the country as tourists, partly to be sure of obtaining a visa and partly so as to travel incognito and thus avoid official harassment. It is unusual for the Belarus consulate to officially refuse a visa request but the consular services know how to drag out the process for so long that journalists do not get their visas in time. This is, for example, what happened to Fabrice Nodé-Langlois, correspondent for the daily Le Figaro in Moscow, when he tried to get to Minsk...


27 March 2006

17 journalists caught in post-election crackdown still held

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has reported that four other journalists were arrested during the major police raid on the night of 23-24 March, bringing the number rounded up in the past week to 26 and the number still in prison to 17.

They were arrested when anti-riot police charged demonstrators contesting President Alexander Lukashenko’s reelection and destroyed their camp. According to the latest Agence France-Presse estimate yesterday, the number of people arrested on October Square was 450.

The authorities are now sentencing people for participating in this “illegal gathering.” Among the latest journalists to be convicted or arrested are:

-  Vitali Vasilkov, Deutsche Welle’s correspondent in the eastern city of Mogiliyev, who was sentenced to seven days in prison on 23 March.
-  Alexei Salej, the editor of the website Pahonia, who has been held since 24 March in the western city of Grodno, pending trial.
-  Valeryi Shchukine, the correspondent of the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya in the northeastern city of Vitebsk, who was arrested for the first time on 17 March, released on 23 March and rearrested on 24 March as he was about to catch a train to go home.
-  Weronika Samolinska, an intern journalist with the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who was sentenced to 10 days in prison on 27 March.

Lorraine Millot, the Moscow correspondent of the French daily Libération, was arrested on the night of 24 March in Minsk and was released a short while later. Another foreign journalist, Pavel Cheremet of the Russian TV station Pervyi Kanal (previously called ORT) was arrested yesterday. A well-known opponent of the Lukashenko regime, he was beaten before being released today and was told to leave the country within 48 hours.

For most part, detained independent journalists are sent to the provisional detention centre on Okrestina Street where they are being held in very grim conditions which have already been described by Reporters Without Borders.

Jérémi Lavoie, the brother of Canadian freelance journalist Frédérick Lavoie, who has been held since 24 March, told Reporters Without Borders he was very worried about his brother. He said he had been trying from his home in Quebec to obtain Frédérick’s release but had not succeeded in identifying the police section responsible. There was a complete lack of administrative transparency and officials were very hard to reach, he said.

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call to foreign countries with representatives on the ground in Belarus to do everything possible to obtain the release of the 17 journalists currently detained there.


24 March 2006

Twenty-two independent journalists rounded up in post-election crackdown

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Reporters Without Borders said it was appalled at an unprecedented crackdown against independent journalists after the overnight arrest of nine more, bringing to 22 the number rounded up since the start of the week, 13 of whom are still in prison.

Five days after the contested re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko the nine journalists were arrested on 23-24 March and detained at an unknown location.

The crackdown intensified overnight on 23-24 March, during which anti-riot police arrested hundreds of opposition demonstrators.

“These arrests are intended to gag dissent and to sow a climate of terror in the country. The independent journalists should be immediately released,” said Reporters Without Borders, calling on representatives of foreign countries in Belarus and on neighbouring countries to intervene on behalf of the jailed journalists.

Among the nine journalists arrested are four members of the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), a partner organisation of Reporters Without Borders. Freelance Vadim Kaznacheyeu, Tatsiana Snitko and Artsiom Liava, respectively freelance correspondent and photographer on Nasha Niva, as well as Tatiana Vanina, were arrested at 3am and taken to an unknown place of detention.

Also picked up were non-accredited Canadian freelance, Frederick Lavoie, Andrey Rasinski, of the weekly Nasha Niva, Nino Giorgabiani and Georgiy Lagidze, of the Georgian public broadcast group OGT and Alexander Podrabinek, of the Russian news agency Prima-News.

Thirteen other journalists remain behind bars, most of them sentenced to several days in prison for alleged “hooliganism”, “taking part in an unauthorised gathering” or for “offering obscenities”.

They are being held in shocking conditions in overcrowded and unheated cells and with an utter lack of hygiene. Beds are wooden planks with no bedding and the toilet is a hole dug in the ground.

The first journalist to be sentenced at the start of the week was Aliaxey Shein, working for the press group of opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. He was arrested on 20 March and sentenced to five days in prison.

On 21 March, five more journalists were targeted in the official crackdown:
-  Igor Bantser, of the weekly Glos znad Niemna was sentenced to ten days in prison
-  Andrzej Pisalnik, of the same newspaper, was jailed for 12 days
-  Yuri Chavusau, journalist with the NGO Internet Portal and founder of Palitychnaya Sfera and Arche magazines, ten days.
-  Alexey Rads, of Internet forum forum.grodno.net, ten days.
-  Dzmitry Hurnevich, freelance correspondent for Polish radio, Radio Polonia, ten days.

On 22 March, three other journalists were jailed:
-  Andrey Dynko, editor of the weekly Nasha Niva, ten days.
-  Vadim Aleksandrovitch, journalist on the weekly Belorusy i Rinok, ten days.
-  Andrij Lukka, Ukrainian journalist n Karpatski Holos, 15 days.

On 23 March, three journalists joined their colleagues in Belarus prisons:
-  Ivan Roman, a freelance correspondent for www.solidarnost.org, the website for the former weekly Solidarnost, was sentenced to 13 days in prison. He had earlier been arrested, on 17 March, taken to a police station, questioned with a gun held to his head and threatened.
-  Viktor Yarashuk, editor of the local magazine Myastsovy Chas, six days. He had already been held for five days from 15-20 March.
-  Anton Taras, freelance journalist, 11 days.
-  Sergey Salash, of the magazine Offside, 13 days.




  In this country
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Call for end to unofficial ban on foreign journalists
26 February - Belarus
Judge orders two issues of cultural magazine seized and destroyed
29 January - Belarus
In show of bad faith, government again refuses to issue press accreditation to Radio Racyja journalists
27 November - Belarus
Amid signs of tentative liberalisation, government urged to do more and to resist temptation to control Internet
26 September - Belarus
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