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Belarus29 June 2003

Russian journalist expelled

Reporters Without Borders today protested against yesterday’s announced expulsion of Pavel Selin, the Minsk correspondent of the Russian television station NTV, because of an allegedly "tendentious" report on the funeral of a writer opposed to President Alexander Lukashenko. The Belorussian foreign ministry withdrew Selin’s accreditation, banned him from entering the country for five years, and threatened to close NTV’s Minsk bureau if the station does not screen an apology.

Coming after the forced temporary closure of at least five independent newspapers in recent weeks, Selin’s expulsion and the threatened closure of the NTV bureau seem to be part of a deliberate policy to eliminate news diversity in Belarus. If the authorities do put an end to NTV coverage in Belarus, they will deprive the public of one of the few easily accessible non-governmental news sources.

Reporters Without Borders therefore called on the authorities to reverse their decision and allow Selin to resume working in Belarus and, in general, not to obstruct the work of foreign journalists.

The foreign ministry on 27 June asked Selin to explain a report two days before on the funeral of writer Pavel Bykov, in which he said the police deliberately obstructed the 20,000-strong procession and that Bykov’s widow had been stripped of her permission to reside in Minsk. The report also stressed the presence of the red and white flag that was used when Belarus won independence but has since been banned and is now a symbol of opposition to the Lukashenko regime.

Selin, who was told yesterday of the interior ministry’s decision to expel him, said the authorities were especially annoyed that he included an interview with Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarus’s first leader after independence, in which he said "Lukashenko was afraid to come to the funeral."

Selin had come under pressure from the authorities in the past about his reporting in Belarus. The foreign ministry announced on 25 April 2002 that it had warned him about a series of reports on repression of the Belorussian opposition. Selin had been summoned to the ministry the day before and asked to deny the truth of the reports and to apologise for their "biased and groundless" content.

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