New York, May 2, 2005—A Belarusian court granted early release Saturday to two Russian journalists arrested last week while covering an opposition demonstration in the capital, Minsk, that marked the anniversary of the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The journalists were freed along with 12 Russians who participated in the rally, according to local and international press reports.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said jailing the reporters was unjust because they were simply doing their jobs.
Last Wednesday, the Leninsky Court in Minsk sentenced Aleksey Ametyov, a correspondent for the Russian edition of Newsweek magazine, to a 10-day jail term and Mikhail Romanov, a reporter for the Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, to an eight-day term for participating in a rally that was not approved by the Minsk government. The court handed brief jail sentences and fines to the 12 other Russians, five Ukrainians, and 14 Belarusians. The Ukrainian and Belarusian demonstrators remained in custody today, according to press reports.
The Minsk City Court announced Saturday that it had reduced the Russian protesters’ sentences because they are first-time offenders, The Associated Press reported.
Forty people were detained at the April 26 rally, which drew about 400 demonstrators. Protesters opposed President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s policy to repopulate and farm the Chernobyl region. Demonstrators included Belarusian, Ukrainian and Russian citizens, carrying posters, flags and banners covered with anti-Lukashenko slogans. Some carried the banned Belarusian national flag and European Union flag; others had orange banners that invoked neighboring Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Police forcefully dispersed the demonstration Tuesday evening, according to press reports.