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Belarus28 March 2008

Raids on independent broadcasters and homes of journalists

Reporters Without Borders condemns the raids which Belarusian KGB security agents carried out on 27 March on the homes of many journalists and on the Minsk bureaux of two radio stations - Radio Racyja and European Radio for Belarus - and the satellite TV station Belsat. Headquartered in neighbouring Poland, these three broadcasters employ journalists in Belarus who work without official authorisation.

“We deplore this government harassment of independent news media,” the press freedom organisation said. “The reasons given by the police during the raids are just pretexts for obstructing the work of independent journalists. We call on the authorities to put an end to this persecution.”

KGB agents seized five computers, fax machines, dictaphones and other equipment in the raid on the Radio Racyja. One of its journalists, Yulya Kotskaya, was interrogated by the head of the KGB. The homes of 13 journalists were also searched. When freelance journalist Vadzim Barshcheuski refused to open his door to police, they summoned a repairman and got him to force the lock with a blow-torch.

The grounds given by the authorities for the raids were alleged links between these news media and three activists with the NGO “Third Way, Pavel Marozau, Aleh Minich and Andrey Abozau, who fled the country in 2005 after being accused of defamation because they posted satirical cartoons of President Lukashenko online. The cartoons were also broadcast by Belsat.

But Zhanna Litvina, the head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), said the authorities were taking their revenge for the impartial coverage of a major opposition demonstration on 25 March and “honest reporting on the country’s economic and social situation.”

Belsat news editor Alyaksey Dzikavitski said he was convinced that the raids on the homes of the station’s correspondents were linked to their coverage of the opposition demonstration. He added that most of the independent journalists whose homes were searched did not work for Belsat.

Created by the Polish government, Belsat began broadcasting to Belarus in December. Its declared mission is to cover “news in Belarus, Europe and the rest of the world in a precise and independent manner.” Poland-based Radio Racyja and European Radio for Belarus also have a reputation for providing Belarusians with independent news coverage.

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