In Belarus, press attacks continue on election weekend and beyond

New York, March 20, 2006—Belarusian authorities muzzled independent journalists in the final hours of the presidential campaign—and beyond—as President Aleksandr Lukashenko won a third term in balloting on Sunday that international observers said fell short of democratic standards.

Authorities arrested three Belarusian editors without explanation and barred at least four Russian journalists from covering the vote, according to local and international press reports. Independent news Web sites reported technical difficulties all weekend. And today, press reports said, border police seized news footage from a Ukrainian television crew.

On Saturday, police detained Sergei Nerovny, editor of the newspaper Volny Gorod, in Krichev, Mogilevsk region; Andrei Shantarovich, editor of the newspaper Mestnaya Gazeta, in Volkovysk, Grodnensk region; and Ivan Roman, reporter for the Internet version of the newspaper Solidarnost, in the capital, Minsk. The government did not disclose charges, and the status of the three journalists remained unclear today.

The same day, three Russian journalists were detained at a polling station in Soligorsk, Minsk region, and later expelled, according to press reports. Aleksandr Boldyrev, Gennady Pankov, and Vladimir Ivanov, correspondents for the Russian newspaper Pravoye Delo, were trying to cover the balloting, the independent news service Belapan said. Another Pravoye Delo journalist, Vadim Valiyev, was detained on Sunday at a polling station in Gomel. He was released shortly after the Russian embassy intervened, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported. The reasons for the detentions were not disclosed.

Accessing independent Web sites was difficult or impossible throughout the weekend, according to press reports. The affected sites included the independent Internet newspaper Belorusskiye Novosti; the Web site of Belapan; and the Web site of the human rights monitor Charter 97. Belapan said its Internet provider blamed heavy Web traffic.

A border patrol at the Novaya Huta checkpoint stopped a Ukrainian television crew today as it was returning to its station, Novy Kanal. Police briefly detained reporter Mikhail Shamanov and cameraman Sergei Dakhin and seized footage from an opposition rally, saying it would be examined to determine compliance with Belarusian law, the independent news Web site Ukrainska Pravda reported.

Four university students who are part-time correspondents for Pravoye Delo were also detained at the Gomel train station on Saturday. Aleksei Novoselov, Andrei Khachaturov, Aleksandr Golmakov, and Dmitry Volov did not carry press accreditation and it was unclear whether they were planning to cover the vote. Novoselov, Khachaturov and Golmakov were sent back to Russia, but Volov’s status was unclear, Belapan said.

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