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Belarus13 December 2007

Journalist gets seven days in prison for covering banned demo

Reporters Without Borders today called for the release of Barys Haretski, a reporter for the privately-owned weekly Nasha Niva and stringer for Poland-based Radio Racyja, who was sentenced to seven days in prison on 11 December for covering an unauthorised demonstration.

He was charged with using obscene language, insulting the police and refusing to obey them. The police later also accused him of distributing leaflets and chanting slogans. Radio Racyja firmly denied this.

“Haretski has been unfairly convicted just for doing his job as a reporter,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Even if this is common practice in Belarus, a journalist covering an event should under no circumstances be regarded as a criminal.”

Haretski was working for Radio Racyja at the time of his arrest, covering a protest against a decree issued by President Alexandre Lukashenko. Protesters were also arrested and given prison sentences.

Radio Racyja’s reporters are often harassed by the authorities. One, Ivan Roman, was arrested on 9 October and held in police custody for five days. A laptop was seized from another Radio Racyja reporter on 2 December.

On 10 December, the Polish government announced the launch if a satellite TV news station called Belsat that will be run with the help of members of the Belarusian opposition and will provide news targeted at the Belarusian public. The aim is to encourage a democratic transition in Belarus, which was ranked 151st out of 169 countries in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.

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