Belarusian authorities continue press crackdown

New York, March 27, 2006—A prominent Russian journalist was detained and beaten by police, another Russian journalist was expelled, and at least six Belarusian and international journalists were handed jail sentences as Belarusian authorities continued to crack down on journalists covering the aftermath of the flawed March 19 presidential vote.

Five plainclothes officers pushed Pavel Sheremet, journalist for the Russian Channel One television network, into a van as he was walking along a Minsk street at around 1 p.m. Saturday, according to press reports. Police handcuffed, blindfolded, and beat the journalist, Sheremet told the Committee to Protect Journalists and news organizations. Sheremet, an ethnic Belarusian who lives in Russia, was visiting relatives in Minsk at the time and was not covering the antigovernment protests in October Square, according to local press reports.

The officers kept saying: “What are you writing! What are you saying!” as they were beating him, he told the Russian business daily Kommersant. Sheremet had criticized President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s government in pre-election interviews with the independent Russian radio Ekho Moskvy, the Russian and Belarusian services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and a number of independent newspapers, Sheremet told Kommersant.

The journalist, who said he was recovering from a recent case of pneumonia, felt sick after the beating, and police took him to a local hospital for evaluation, Sheremet told CPJ. He said he was transferred back to a Minsk police detention unit that evening, where police pressured him to confess to insulting Lukashenko. Sheremet said he refused to answer questions or sign any confession. Doctors at the Minsk hospital released a statement on Saturday asserting that Sheremet had not been beaten. Sheremet was released from detention on Sunday and is now back in Moscow.

A Minsk court sentenced several journalists to prison terms today. They were:

  • Aleksandr Podrabinek, correspondent for the Russian human rights information agency Prima-News, 10 days for hooliganism.
  • Weronika Samolinska, reporter for the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, 10 days for participating in an illegal rally.
  • Freelance Belarusian journalist Vadim Kaznacheyeu, 10 days for participating in an illegal rally and uttering antistate slogans.
  • Georgian Public Broadcasting reporter Nino Giorgobiani five days, and cameraman Giorgi Laghidze 15 days for hooliganism and participating in an illegal rally.

All of the journalists were detained early Friday, when riot police stormed an encampment of 200 or more opposition protesters in October Square, according to local and international press reports.