Czech reporter beaten, three Belarusians detained in election aftermath

New York, March 21, 2006—Unidentified assailants beat a reporter for the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes as he was completing coverage of a post-election opposition rally in downtown Minsk Sunday night, The Associated Press reported. The attackers broke Jan Rybar’s nose, leaving him with a mild concussion and bruises, and took his laptop computer and satellite phone, which he had used to file his report from the rally. The attackers took no money, the AP said.

“I don’t think those were regular robbers,” the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted Rybar as saying. “The circumstances of where, when, and how this happened are hardly coincidental.”

The Czech charge d’affairs in Minsk, Vladimir Ruml, told Mlada Fronta Dnes that he suspects complicity by Belarusian secret police. “It happened in the city center, where a member of the secret police stood at every corner.” Ruml said.

Rybar is currently recovering at home in Prague, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.

The Czech government has been critical of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who won 82 percent of the vote Sunday in an election that international observers said fell short of democratic standards.

Prague has often denounced the Lukashenko regime’s dismal human rights record, prompting some retaliatory steps. In January, Minsk denied visas to two Czech lawmakers who sought to conduct a fact-finding mission in the run-up to the presidential election, Deutsche Presse-Agentur said.

Belarusian authorities continued to detain independent journalists in the capital and provinces today.

Authorities in the western city of Grodno arrested, charged, and convicted Andrei Pisalnik, editor of the Polish-language newspaper Glos Znad Niemna na Uchodzstwie, and his colleague, reporter Igor Bantser. The two were handed sentences of 12 and 10 days in jail, respectively, on charges of “hooliganism.” Police did not provide details of the purported offenses.

Pisalnik was detained hours after completing a five-day jail term for “swearing in public at a bus stop,” according to local CPJ sources and press reports. Read CPJ’s March 16 alert.

Also today, police detained Andrei Dynko, editor of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva. He was arrested this morning on his way to October Square in downtown Minsk, where opposition supporters continued to gather. The Ministry of Interior would not provide details about the detention or Dynko’s whereabouts, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.

For more information about the crackdown, see the CPJ alerts from February 10, March 2, March 14, March 16, March 17, March 20, and the Belarus country summary from CPJ’s annual report, Attacks on the Press in 2005.