Belarus frees Radina, Khalip but sets severe restrictions

New York, January 31, 2011–Belarusian authorities must lift restrictions on newly freed journalists Natalya Radina and Irina Khalip, and drop the fabricated charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalist said today. CPJ also called for the immediate release of the still-jailed reporters Boris Goretsky and Yevgeny Vaskovich.

The Belarusian security service, known as the KGB, released Radina and Khalip from its detention facility in Minsk over the weekend, but the agency has maintained criminal charges against them and is severely restricting their activities, Radina told CPJ. KGB agents imprisoned Radina and Khalip on December 19, following post-election opposition protests in Minsk, and indicted them on charges of organizing mass disorder. Both journalists face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Radina said KGB officers released her from prison Friday night on condition that she immediately relocate from Minsk to the western town of Kobrin, where she holds permanent residence. Radina said she was forced to sign an agreement not to leave Kobrin while the KGB investigation against her was ongoing. She was also ordered to be available on mobile phone, to check in daily with local police, and to go to the regional KGB headquarters whenever summoned. Radina said the KGB confiscated her passport and barred her from speaking substantively about her case.

Khalip, a correspondent for the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was transferred on Saturday from the KGB detention facility to her apartment in Minsk where she was placed under house arrest, local and international press reports said. Yanina Melnikova, spokeswoman for the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told CPJ that the KGB banned Khalip from leaving her apartment, talking on the phone, using the Internet, or reading newspapers. Two KGB agents are stationed at Khalip’s apartment to ensure she does not violate the conditions, Melnikova said. Only Khalip’s parents and her 3-year old son are allowed to see and contact the journalist.

“Belarus has given a new meaning to house arrest. Stationing two KGB agents in a journalist’s apartment to make sure she doesn’t read a newspaper is surreal,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The restrictions placed on the movements of our colleagues Irina Khalip and Natalya Radina should be lifted immediately and the charges against both dropped.”

Imprisoned on January 17, journalists Boris Goretsky and Yevgeny Vaskovich remained in jail as of midday today, Melnikova told CPJ. Goretsky, a local reporter for Poland-based Radio Racyja, was sentenced to 14 days in jail for alleged participation in the December 19 protests; he was due to be released late today, Melnikova said.

Vaskovich, a journalist with the independent newspaper Bobruisky Kuryer, was initially sentenced to 10 days in jail on hooliganism charges, but his term was extended by two months on Thursday, according to Melnikova and press reports. The independent news website Naviny said authorities opened a new criminal case against Vaskovich, alleging he participated in an October 16 attack on the regional KGB headquarters in the city of Bobruisk. The two-month extension is a form of pretrial detention.