Belarusian police seize ‘antistate’ video from Ukrainian TV crew

New York, January 30, 2006—Belarusian police stopped a Ukrainian television crew at a border checkpoint on Friday and seized video footage they described as “antistate,” according to local and international press reports.

A crew with the independent Inter network was returning to Kyiv from assignment in the Gomel region of Belarus when a border patrol searched their car at the Novaya Huta checkpoint and seized three videotapes containing interviews with Gomel residents, local reports said.

The crew was reporting on voter opinions in the run-up to March presidential elections in Belarus. The material was to be broadcast on Inter on January 29, local press reports said. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has sought clarification for the seizure, a spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told the news agency Interfax on Monday.

“We filmed the lives of regular people— what anyone could witness,” Inter journalist Aleksei Ivanov told the daily Kommersant-Ukraine. “There were comments from residents who lamented that, once again, they will not have a presidential election but a Lukashenko election.”

Lukashenko has waged a systematic crackdown on independent media and dissenting voices, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Officials have filed lawsuits, imposed fines, revoked accreditations, blocked access to printers, confiscated equipment, and detained and harassed journalists over the past year. Opposition parties have been excluded from parliament.

“There’s nothing ‘antistate’ about the exchange of critical opinions. We condemn the Belarusian government’s campaign of censorship against domestic and international media,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on authorities to return the seized Inter footage immediately and allow the channel to report in Belarus freely.”