Journalists continue to be detained and tried in Belarus

New York, January 13, 2011–As a part of the ongoing crackdown in Belarus on independent reporters, the Belarusian security service (KGB) has detained journalist Andrzej Poczobut, a Grodno correspondent for the largest Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, and freelance reporter Irina Charniauka in Minsk, local press reported today. Poczobut was also summarily tried and fined

Poczobut told CPJ that four KGB agents in Grodno raided his apartment at around 6 p.m. on Wednesday, confiscated his computer, six hard drives, two flash drives, and archives of Magazyn Polski na Uchodzstwie, an independent magazine to which he has contributed, then detained him. It was the second time the KGB has detained and interrogated Poczobut in less than a week.

The agents took Poczobut to the KGB headquarters in Grodno for a brief interrogation then transferred him to Minsk, where today he was brought before a local court and found guilty of “participation in unsanctioned protest rally.” He was ordered to pay a fine of 1.75 million Belarusian rubles (about US$580) and then released.

KGB agents raided Charniauka’s apartment in Minsk at around 3 p.m. today, confiscated her computer and other equipment and took her to their headquarters for a three-hour-long interrogation, she told CPJ. The agents produced a search warrant that said that she was a witness in a criminal case against imprisoned opposition candidate Ales Mikhalevich, who ran against President Aleksandr Lukashenko in the December 19 presidential elections. Charniauka said she had no connection to Mikhalevich. She told CPJ the KGB agents primarily asked about her work as a freelance contributor to the Poland-based satellite broadcaster Belsat.

“The Belarusian authorities seem determined to snuff out the last vestiges of independent journalism,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “This relentless campaign of search and seizure must stop.”

In two other incidents in Minsk today, KGB agents interrogated Marina Koktysh, a journalist with the opposition daily Narodnaya Volya; and someone broke into the apartment of freelance journalist Yekaterina Tkachenko, local press reported. Tkachenko told CPJ she is unable to enter her apartment and check if anything is missing because the lock is jammed. It is the second raid on her apartment since late December.

In the last two weeks, at least seven independent reporters and one newsroom  have been subject to raids by the KGB as part of a criminal case into the “mass disorder” in downtown Minsk on December 19 to protest the results of a flawed presidential vote.