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CPJ demands Belarus end its assault on press

Demonstrators hold signs for jailed journalist Irina Khalip and her son. (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

New York, December 27, 2010--Belarusian authorities must immediately halt their assault on independent and pro-opposition news media, a crackdown that has led to unjust detentions, raids, and seizures, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Unidentified government agents confiscated computers and other equipment in a Saturday evening raid at the Minsk offices of European Radio for Belarus, or Evroradio, news reports said. Agents also raided the premises of the satellite television channel Belsat on Saturday but seized no property because apprehensive journalists had dismantled station equipment and taken it home for the Christmas holiday. No staffers were on duty in either newsroom when the raids took place, according to local press reports.

On Saturday morning, agents with the KGB security service searched the home of journalist Irina Khalip and her husband, opposition presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, both of whom have been jailed since December 19. Khalip's father, Vladimir Khalip, who was at the apartment along with the journalist's mother and 3-year-old son, told the news agency BelaPAN that the search warrant was signed by Minsk city prosecutor Nikolai Kulik. A second warrant authorized a search of Vladimir Khalip's home, where agents confiscated a computer, BelaPAN said.

Today, a man who identified himself as a KGB agent summoned for questioning Iosif Seredich, editor-in-chief of Narodnaya Volya, the nation's leading opposition daily, the journalist told BelaPAN. Seredich said the agent did not specify a reason; the questioning is to take place on Tuesday.

As CPJ reported last week, at least 20 journalists have been jailed after covering post-election protests in Minsk. Protesters have denounced the conduct of the December 19 presidential election in which incumbent Aleksandr Lukashenko was declared the victor. Observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the government's lack of transparency in vote-counting, along with its suppression of the news media.

"We call on Belarusian authorities to stop their crackdown on local independent and pro-opposition press, which has been going on since the flawed presidential election," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "All equipment confiscated from Evroradio and the homes of Irina Khalip and her parents must be immediately returned."

Evroradio continued broadcasting from its headquarters in Warsaw, but news operations in Minsk were halted by the raid. Local news reports said Evroradio staffers learned of the Minsk raid when they saw a reader's comment posted to the outlet's website on Saturday evening: "Is it true that your office is being searched?" Deputy Editor Vitaly Zyblyuk went to the office and found damages he likened to "a post-tornado scene," the Belarusian online news outlet Yezhednevnik reported. All of the station's broadcasting equipment had been seized, the report said.

Journalists linked the raid to Evroradio's critical coverage of the marred presidential vote. In particular, the raid may be retaliation for Evroradio interviews with Russian political analysts who were sharply critical of Lukashenko, local press reports said. 

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