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Belarus12 October 2007

Journalists and opposition members arrested to prevent them taking part in protest

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arbitrary arrests of journalists Ivan Roman and Ihar Bantsar in the past three days to prevent them from attending a demonstration which opponents of President Alexandre Lukashenko plan to hold on 14 October. Roman went on hunger strike after learning he has been sentenced to five days in prison.

“We deplore the preventive arrests of journalists and opposition members and we call on the Belarusian authorities not to continue,” the press freedom organisation said.

Roman, of Radio Racyja, was arrested at his home on 9 October by plain-clothes police. Bantsar, the editor of the magazine Polski na Uchodzstwie, was arrested on 10 October and sentenced to ten days in prison. The media were not allowed to attend Roman’s trial on 10 October, at which he was given the five-day sentence for “filthy language.”

Reporters Without Borders managed to speak to Roman briefly by telephone before his trial. He said his imprisonment was “directly linked to the European march planned for 14 October in Minsk.” Andrey Bastunets, the vice-president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), said the arrests were “ridiculous and their motives clearly identifiable - confining people who could attend the demonstration.”

The police also arrested leading opposition figures on 9 and 10 October with the apparent aim of holding them for four or five days so that they cannot attend the protest march.

Other journalists, including Andrey Pachabut and Alyaksey Saley of Polski na Uchodzstwie, Andrey Dynko of the newspaper Nasha Niva, Andrey Pisalnik, the former editor of the newspaper Glos znad Niemna and Andrei Shantarovich, the former editor of the weekly Mestnaya Gazeta, were the victims earlier this year of similar preventive measures against the government’s opponents.

Belarus was placed 151st in the latest Reporters Without Borders ranking of 168 countries according to their respect for press freedom.

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