Authorities crack down on freelancers after a protest rally in Minsk

New York, January 14, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the detention of one freelance journalist and the interrogation of three others in Minsk, and it calls on Belarusian authorities to halt persecution of the independent press. Arseny Pakhomov, a freelance photographer working for the independent weekly Nasha Niva, was arrested and sentenced to 15 days in prison last week after covering a business protest, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.

On Saturday, Minsk police questioned couple Galina and Vladimir Samoilov and colleague Valery Buldyk for three hours and confiscated their equipment after they conducted a related interview, according to local press reports.

“We are alarmed by the recent arrest and detention of freelance journalists in Minsk and call on Belarusian authorities to release the freelancer and return the equipment to our colleagues,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Belarusian authorities should stop persecuting journalists for their work.”

Andrei Bastunets, BAJ deputy chairman, told CPJ that police arrested Pakhomov while he was covering a January 10 protest rally staged by about 2,000 businesspeople in Minsk. Police cracked down on the protesters, arrested organizers, and dispersed the rally, according to local press reports. Businesspeople were angered by government tax policy and hiring restrictions. Bastunets said Pakhomov had a press card and did not participate in the rally. Minsk Central District Court Judge Leonid Yasinovich found Pakhomov guilty of participation in an unsanctioned rally and petty hooliganism, sentencing the journalist to 15 days in prison, according to BAJ.

Galina Samoilova told CPJ that police detained her and her colleagues as they were leaving an apartment building in Minsk, where they had filmed an interview with economist Pavel Daneiko. Police, claiming there was a theft in Daneiko’s apartment building, confiscated all of their equipment. Samoilova said Daneiko discussed the implications of that week’s protest rally.