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Belarus10 October 2007

Opposition writer’s two-year jail sentence upheld on appeal

A Minsk court upheld a two-year prison sentence for writer and political activist Andrei Klimau on 2 October, rejecting the appeal presented by his lawyer, Valyantsina Lyatun. Klimau was secretly convicted in August for an article posted online calling for the government’s overthrow. He has been held in a Minsk prison since March.

His mother said he seemed depressed and had lost weight when she visited him in prison on 17 September.

Klimau is the first government opponent in Belarus to be prosecuted and imprisoned because of an article posted on the Internet. He was previously imprisoned from 2000 to 2006 on charges of embezzlement and forgery.

11.06.2007 - Government holds opposition political activist and writer beyond legal limit

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the continuing detention of opposition political activist and writer Andrei Klimau, who should have been released to await trial when the two-month limit on pre-trial detention expired on 3 June. He is being held in Minsk prison.

“We call for his release and we are waiting for the authorities to explain his situation,” the press freedom organisation said. “The government’s refusal to make any comment at all about this case just confirms the arbitrary nature of his detention and the desire to silence those who criticise the regime.”

Klimau was transferred to the prison’s hospital on 25 May with headaches and chest pains, but no information has been released about condition.

He was arrested on 3 April on a charge of “inciting the government’s overthrow” and has been in pre-trial detention since then.

31.05.07 - Call for release of cyber-dissident

Reporters Without Borders called today for the release from Minsk prison of cyber-dissident Andrei Klimau, who was arrested on 3 April after posting an article online that allegedly appealed for the overthrow of the government. The two-month maximum period of custody allowed without charges expires on 3 June.

Klimau said in a letter to his family that this period was going to be extended for three months. An official in the Minsk public prosecutor’s office denied this when contacted by Reporters Without Borders.

25.05.07 - Opposition activist hospitalised after plea

Reporters Without Borders said it was concerned about the health of opposition activist Andrei Klimau, who was taken to hospital today in Minsk prison, where he has been held since 3 April accused of posting an article on the Internet "calling for the overthrow of the government".

He had said in a letter to his mother that he had headaches and stomach pains and had asked to be taken to hospital, but prison doctor Alla Mehedova refused his request on 16 May. His mother called health minister Vasil Zharko to ask that he be admitted to a private clinic and criticised his conditions of detention.

20.04.07 - Opposition activist arrested for article posted online

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of writer and political activist Andrei Klimau on 3 April on a charge of “inciting the regime’s overthrow” in an article posted on the Internet in which he was very critical of President Lukashenko and looked at options for changing the political system in Belarus. The organisation is also concerned about a parliamentary committee’s bill that could require all online publications to register.

While acknowledging that some of Klimau’s comments were extreme, Reporters Without Borders stresses its opposition to any use of imprisonment as a punishment for the expression of opinions or for press offences.

"This is the first time that an opponent of the Belarusian government has been arrested for an article posted online," the press freedom organisation said. "The charge of ‘inciting the regime’s overthrow’ is being used to silence a dissident. Klimau’s arrest highlights the almost total control exercised by the government over information in Belarus."

The organisation added: "We also fear that making websites register with the authorities will increase the pressure on independent online public publications, including blogs, and will encourage self-censorship."

Klimau has been charged under criminal code article 361 for the essay he posted on the website of the Union for a Civic Party on 25 January. Article 361 punishes any "appeal for subversion or change of the constitutional system of the Republic of Belarus, or for accomplishment of crimes against the state, public appeals for violent seizure of power or change of the constitutional system of the Republic of Belarus, or betrayal to state, or accomplishment of terrorist act or sabotage, or distribution of materials, which contain such appeals realized with mass media usage."

Klimau faces up to five years imprison. He has had several spells in prison in the past including a year and a half in 2005-2006 for organising a demonstration against the government.

The Belarusian press freedom group BAJ held a news conference on 12 April to issue a warning about the parliamentary committee’s proposed law on Information, Information Technology and the Protection of Information, which proposes creating a system for registering all media, including online publications. It has not yet been made clear whether registration will be obligatory or just recommended. But such a law is very disturbing in a country such as Belarus, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "13 Internet Enemies."

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