The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s deportation of
Mikhail Podolyak, a Ukrainian journalist, by the Belarusian security service (KGB). Early yesterday morning, agents forced Podolyak out of his home in the capital of Minsk and put him on a train to Odessa, Ukraine, according to local and international reports.
KGB agents gave Podolyak, deputy editor of the independent Minsk-based weekly Vremya, only 15 minutes to pack before they took him to the train station. His wife, Irina, a Belarusian native, was left behind.
Podolyak was expelled for violating a law that defines the rights of foreigners living in Belarus, according to an official KGB statement. The statement accused the journalist of writing “slanderous fabrications” about the political situation in Belarus.
Podolyak is banned from entering Belarus for a period of five years–a restriction noted in his passport.
In analytical pieces for Vremya, Podolyak frequently criticized the political and economic policies of your government, especially those concerning relations with Russia.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a leading media watchdog group, condemned Podolyak’s deportation. The journalist received no advance warning about his deportation and was given no opportunity to appeal it, BAJ said.
Despite his deportation, Podolyak said he would continue contributing to Vremya from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, according to the independent Moscow news agency Prima. Vremya‘s editor in chief, Pavel Zhuk, said Podolyak would remain his deputy.
Podolyak is the third foreign journalist deported from Belarus in the past six years. The heads of the Belarusian bureau of the Russian television channel NTV, Aleksandr Stupnikov and Pavel Selin, were expelled from Belarus in 1997 and 2003, respectively.
And Podolyak’s case is not an isolated example of your government’s repressive tactics to eliminate critics and stifle opposition voices. On June 3, the Information Ministry ordered a three-month suspension of the opposition weekly Rabochaya Solidarnost for allegedly failing to inform authorities of a change in address. On June 9, the Oktyabrsky District Court in Minsk sentenced Oksana Novikova, a private citizen, to two and a half years in prison for libeling Your Excellency–a criminal offense under Belarusian law. On April 5, Novikova was detained as she distributed leaflets critical of you at a Minsk subway station.
In 2003, Belarusian authorities also cracked down on U.S.-funded organizations providing assistance to local media. The Foreign Ministry refused to extend its accreditation of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) and Internews Network, forcing them to close their Minsk offices and end their media training programs–a move that added to the growing isolation of Belarus from the international community.
The Belarusian Constitution guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of expression, but your government has clearly violated these basic principles. Your administration’s recent actions are particularly troublesome in the run-up to this fall’s Belarusian parliamentary elections. We urge you to remove libel laws from your country’s Penal Code, stop the politically motivated campaign against independent journalism in Belarus, and recognize that as leaders of your country, you and your administration are at the center of public debate and must tolerate criticism and public scrutiny. Silencing your opponents only bolsters the claim that the upcoming parliamentary elections are unlikely to be free and democratic.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.