European Journalists Slam Belarus Intolerance after “Pantomime Justice” Puts Editor behind Bars

The European Federation of Journalists today accused the authorities of Belarus of stirring up community discord and intolerance after the arrest and detention of Andrzej Pisalnik, acting editor-in-chief of the only Belarusian newspaper printed in Polish Glos znad Niemna. This week he was sentenced to 10 days detention after a judicial process that Belarus journalists said was illegal.

Pisalnik, who is also a collaborator of the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita, is a leading member of the Union of Poles in Belarus and he was put on trial on August 4th accused of violating the Administrative Code for organising and taking part in the celebration of the Independence Day on July 3 and for disobeying the police.

On August 6 Adam Tuchlinski, a Polish photographer working for Przekroj weekly, was arrested by Belarus police who claimed he was not accredited to work in the country. He has been banned from the country for five years. On the same day another Polish journalist, Marcin Smialowski, who had a valid visa, was prevented from entering the country by border guards.

“These cases all point to an ugly pattern of intolerance and victimization of Polish language journalists,” said Aidan White, EFJ General Secretary, “and it is made worse by the imposition of pantomime justice by judges and police who have little respect for the law or journalists’ rights.”

While he was held Andrzej Pisalnik went on a three-day hunger-strike to protest against the actions of the authorities. According to the journalist’s defense lawyer Aliaksandar Birylau , Pisalnik was detained illegally and Paval Mazheika, a member of the Belarus Association of Journalists, said no evidence of violation of law was produced during the trial.

Although the defence asked the court to throw out the charges and suspend proceedings, the judge, Valiantsin Sheuchyk, condemned Pisalnik to 10 days detention.

“It is shocking when the state is caught trying to stir up community discord,” said White. “More than ever, journalists in Belarus need the support and the solidarity of the journalists’ community both in Europe and worldwide.”

The EFJ is calling on journalists’ union across Europe to protest to the government of Alexander Lukashenko over the recent actions. “It is absolutely unacceptable to have a country behaving in a cavalier manner with human rights and natural justice,” said White. “The actions of Belarus must be condemned by the political community at large.”

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The EFJ represents over 250,000 journalists in more than 30 countries