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Belarus21 December 2006

Polish minority journalist held for a week to stall publication of critical article

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of Aleksei Salei, one of the editors of the magazine Magazyn Polski na Uchodzistwie (Polish Magazine in Exile), who was released on 19 December after serving a seven-day sentence for “hooliganism” and “protesting at the time of arrest.” Salei said his arrest was linked to an article about a dispute between the Catholic church and the government over the expulsion of several priests and nuns from Belarus.

“Salei was convicted without being able to defend himself,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The only witnesses who testified in court were the policemen who arrested him. The Belarusian authorities wanted to disrupt the publication of the next issue. We protest against the re-emergence of such practices, aimed at censoring the content of newspapers and magazines critical of the government.”

Salei was arrested on 12 December as he left his office in Grodno, a city close to the Polish border. His family was only notified of his arrest after threatening to report his disappearance to the police.

Salei said he was probably arrested in order to prevent him covering preparations for a demonstration which the Catholic community was planning to hold in protest against the expulsion of Polish priests and nuns. In the end, the authorities refused to give permission for the demonstration.

Magazyn Polski na Uchodzistwie is a Polish-language monthly published by the Union of Poles in Belarus. Its content is prepared by Grodno-based journalists and it is printed in Warsaw. Editor-in-chief Andrei Pochobut has been arrested several times and issues have been seized.

Salei was previously imprisoned on a trumped-up charge after the presidential election in March. He said Magazyn Polski na Uchodzistwie is constantly harassed by the authorities, who are hostile to the Polish minority in Belarus. He intends to continue working for the magazine, he added.

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