More than two dozen journalists jailed in Belarus

New York, March 28, 2006—More than two dozen domestic and foreign journalists are now jailed in Belarus in connection with a tumultuous presidential campaign that included a deeply flawed March 19 vote and ensuing antigovernment protests, according to records compiled by the Belarusian Association of Journalists and other local press groups.

On Monday, Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay called on Belarusian authorities to immediately release Frederick Lavoie, a reporter for the Montreal-based newspaper La Presse, who was arrested while covering a protest in October Square on Friday and sentenced to 15 days in jail. “Effective immediately, the government of Canada will limit its official relations with Belarusian authorities,” MacKay said during a meeting with the Belarusian ambassador to Canada, Nina Mazai.

On Monday, five journalists were handed sentences of eight to 10 days in prison and another was fined during court proceedings in the capital, Minsk, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported. The association puts the total number of journalists now jailed at 26. Journalists from at least five foreign countries—Canada, Georgia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine—are among those being held.

Charges of hooliganism or participation in illegal protests have been lodged in many of the cases thus far, but few details were disclosed concerning the cases heard Monday.

On Monday, district courts in Minsk imposed the following sentences:

  • Freelance Belarusian journalist Tatyana Vanina, to 10 days in jail on unspecified charges.
  • Freelance Belarusian journalist Svetlana Stankevich, to eight days in jail on unspecified charges.
  • Belarusian journalist Darya Kostenko, correspondent for the magazine Asveta and Adukatsyya, to 10 days in jail on unspecified charges.
  • Russian journalists Oleg Kozlovsky and Eduard Glezin, both with the newspaper Pravoye Delo, to 15 days in jail each on unspecified charges. Pavel Sheremet, journalist for the Russian Channel One television network, who was detained by Minsk police on Saturday, told CPJ he was in a detention unit with Glezin. According to Sheremet, Glezin was sick and may need medical attention.
  • Belarusian journalist Tatyana Snitko, reporter for the newspaper Nasha Niva, fined 930,000 Belarusian rubles (US$430) for 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 Minsk’s downtown October Square, according to local and international press reports.

The United States and the European Union imposed financial and travel sanctions against President Aleksandr Lukashenko and other Belarusian government officials on Friday. U.S. and EU officials called the March 19 vote deeply flawed and criticized the police crackdown on opposition protesters.

For more information about the crackdown, see the CPJ alerts from February 10, March 2, March 14, March 16, March 17, March 20, March 21, March 24, March 27, and the Belarus country summary from CPJ’s annual report, Attacks on the Press in 2005.