New York, February 19, 2013--Belarusian authorities must stop harassing Irina Khalip and trying to force the prominent Novaya Gazeta reporter into exile, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement today.
On Monday, Aleksandr Kupchenya, head of the corrections department of the Minsk City Police Directorate, told Khalip that she should use the opportunity of her travel ban being temporarily lifted to leave the country permanently, she told the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
"You did not believe that we would open the borders for you, but we did it and with a sole purpose: you have to leave and never return. Listen to me, do not come back. Take your child, fly to the United Kingdom, claim asylum, and do not return. Nobody needs you here, all you do is spread false information," Kupchenya told Khalip, according to BAJ.
Last fall, Khalip's husband, opposition politician Andrei Sannikov, was granted asylum in the U.K. where he travelled following his release from jail. She lives in Minsk with their young son, but is serving a suspended two-year prison sentence on fabricated charges of mass disorder in connection to her reporting on presidential elections. The sentence, imposed in May 2011, requires her to check in weekly with district police and to spend every night in her Minsk apartment.
Authorities temporarily lifted Khalip's travel ban on Wednesday, saying she could leave the country twice before April 3, local and international press reported.
"Belarus has sunk to a new low by trying to intimidate independent journalist Irina Khalip into exile," said Muzaffar Suleymanov, Europe and Central Asia program research associate. "The authorities must repudiate the remarks of the Minsk City Police official who tried to bully Khalip into permanently leaving the country and lift the travel ban on her completely."
Khalip told CPJ that Kupchenya was waiting for her at the police department Monday when she came for her regular check-in with one of his subordinates. Khalip also said she was forced to relinquish her mobile phone while at the department. CPJ was unable to reach Kupchenya.
Khalip has long been subjected to threats and harassment, CPJ research shows. In June, she told CPJ that she found a sealed, unmarked envelope containing a severed chicken head in her mailbox; Khalip reported the incident to police, but no progress was reported in the investigation. Previously, authorities threatened to seize custody of her son while she was imprisoned by the KGB, and warned her to stop reporting on a sensitive story for Moscow-based Novaya Gazeta.