More raids on journalists’ homes amid Belarus crackdown

New York, January 12, 2011–As part of an ongoing assault on the independent press in Belarus, KGB agents in Minsk raided the apartments of imprisoned journalist Irina Khalip and her mother, Lyutsina Khalip, and took the journalist’s computer, the independent news website Charter 97 reported. Today’s raids are the second at each apartment since the agency imprisoned the journalist on December 20, according to Charter 97. Khalip is the local correspondent for the Moscow-based independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. 

In another attack today, five KGB agents in Gomel, southeastern Belarus, raided the apartment of freelancer Larisa Shchirokova and confiscated three computers, about 100 DVDs, several flash drives, and two voice recorders, the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) reported. Shchirokova contributes reporting to the Poland-based satellite channel Belsat. She told BAJ that she believed the KGB raid was official retaliation for her journalism.

Also today, authorities revoked the broadcasting license of the popular Belarusian station Autoradio, citing purported calls to extremism in its December 16 programming. Yuri Bazan, Autoradio’s executive director, told the Russian service of the U.S. government-sponsored Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he and his staff looked through all the reports released that day and found one phrase that may have led to the accusation of extremism: Before the December 19 presidential elections, Autoradio gave air time to opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov, who said the “fate of the country is determined in the square, not the kitchen.” Sannikov was calling on the Belarusian people to attend protest rallies at Minsk’s main square against expected fraud during the presidential vote.

In the last two weeks, at least five independent reporters and one newsroom had equipment taken during the raids sanctioned and carried out by the Belarusian security service, known as the KGB.

“We deplore the Belarusian authorities’ continued harassment of Irina Khalip’s family and their attempts to build a case against her for merely being a journalist,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “Khalip and detained Charter 97 editor Natalya Radina should be released immediately and this brutal crackdown must come to an end.”

Khalip and her husband, Andrei Sannikov, remain in KGB custody. They have been charged with organizing and participating in mass disorder and face up to 15 years in jail if convicted. Lyutsina Khalip told BBC Russian service that the KGB has been denying visitation rights to her and Irina’s lawyers since late December.