IFJ Condemns Violence against Journalists as Belarus Media Crisis Worsens

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today protested government raids on journalists’ homes that followed violent attacks on journalists during demonstrations in Minsk earlier this week.

“Earlier this week, journalists were beaten and put in jail simply because they were doing their job,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. ”Today the government has followed this up by sending security agents to journalists’ homes. We are worried by these developments which show that the situation of journalists in Belarus is going from bad to worse.”

Early this morning, the KGB, the state security agency, raided the homes of journalists Eduard Mielnikau in Minsk, Anatol Hatochyts in Homiel, Alena Stsiapanava in Vitsiebsk, Tamara Shchapiotkina in Biaroza and Hienadz Sudnik in Mahileu. The government accuses them of libeling President Alexander Lukashenka in cartoons during the public initiative “Third Way” in 2005. Agents seized computers and other materials. They also tried to search the home of journalist Vadzim Barshcheusky in Vitsiebsk, who didn’t open the door.

The offices of Radio Racyja were searched and reporter Yuliya Kotskaya was arrested and held for interrogation. Mobile phone connections of journalists cooperating with The European Radio for Belarus were cut this morning.

“The authorities are most likely taking their revenge for impartial coverage of not only the March 25 demonstration in Minsk but also truthful information about the country’s social and economic situation,” said Zhanna Litvina, the President of IFJ affiliate Belarus Association of Journalists.

On Tuesday, during demonstrations taking place to mark the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic, Nasha Niva photographer Andrei Lyankevich was brutally beaten by riot policemen. Together with dozens of other detained Belarusians he spent a night in jail and now faces trial. The court will decide if the journalist was on the staff of a registered newspaper and indeed performed a newsgathering role. Another Nasha Niva correspondent, Siamion Piechanko was sentenced to 15 days of detention under Belarusian administrative law.

Both journalists are accused of “violating the order of arrangement and holding mass events” (articles 23, 24 of Belarus’ Code on Administrative Torts).

According to Nasha Niva Editor-in-Chief Andrei Skurko, the journalists had press cards and professional journalist equipment with them, though it was broken during riots. Skurko presented editorial assignments given to the detained journalists to show that the two journalists on duty.

On Wednesday, a TV crew from Lithuanian channel RTL TV was also arrested and briefly detained at the Central City District Police Station in Minsk. The police seized a videotape made by RTL journalist Ruta Rybacheuskene and her cameraman.

The IFJ says that in recent years Belarus has been violating every basic principle of press freedom, despite international calls to President Lukashenka to respect freedom of expression and human rights. He has recently concluded an agreement with British PR company Bell Pottinger Group to “work on his image.”

“The best way President Lukashenka can improve his image is to respect press freedom and the work of journalists,” White said.

See also:

News in English on the BAJ Website: http://baj.by/?newlang=eng  

“Belarus: the Struggle for Press Freedom”: www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5922&Language=EN

For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2200

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide