New York, January 11, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ongoing official crackdown
against the independent media in Belarus. The Belarusian security service, known as the KGB, continues to relentlessly raid newsrooms, confiscate reporting equipment from publications and journalists'
homes, imprison independent and pro-opposition journalists, and harass their families.
At around 4 p.m. on Saturday, three local police officers detained
prominent journalist Andrzej Poczobut,
a correspondent for Poland's
largest daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, outside
his home in the western city of Grodno.
They gave him a KGB summons and took him to the Grodno
security service headquarters, where agents interrogated him for three hours
about his alleged participation at the December 19 protest rally in Minsk. (Poczobut was
present at the rally covering events for Gazeta
Wyborcza.) In the course of the interrogation, the agents struck him in the
chest and head when he refused to answer questions without his lawyer, Poczobut
told CPJ. Before he was let go, the KGB handed him a written warning that said he
would face a criminal charge of participating in mass disorder--a charge that
carries up to eight years in prison--if he is present at a similar event in the
In two incidents on Monday, police in the city of Borisov, Minsk region, raided the
newsroom of the independent weekly Borisovskiye Novosti and the apartment of its
editor, Anatoly Bukas. Police confiscated all of the newspaper's electronic equipment,
including 12 computers; three fax machines, three cameras; a printer; a scanner;
multiple flash drives and computer discs; and Bukas' personal laptop computer. Police
also raided Bukas' home and took his camera, the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of
Journalists (BAJ) reported.
"The authorities must stop this protracted crackdown at once,"
CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina
Ognianova said. "We call on KGB agents in Grodno to stop harassing Andrzej Poczobut and allow him to work without fear
of reprisal. We demand that Minsk
authorities immediately return all confiscated equipment from the newsroom of Borisovskiye Novosti and from the home of its
editor, Anatoly Bukas."
BAJ reported that oficers showed a search warrant to the newsroom from the
Minsk Regional KGB Department that said the search was a part of a criminal
case looking into "mass disorder"--an umbrella indictment that has been used to
round up independent and pro-opposition journalists as well as opposition
activists since demonstrators
gathered in downtown Minsk on December 19 to protest the results of a
flawed presidential vote.
According to local reports, the KGB is continuing to pressure
journalists Irina Khalip and Natalya Radina.
Andrei Bastunets, a lawyer with BAJ,
told CPJ defense lawyers and family members have been refused visits with Khalip
and Radina since late December. Authorities cite the KGB's alleged lack of a
specialized room for visitation as the reason, Bastunets said. Khalip is a
local correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Radina is the chief-editor of the pro-opposition
news website Charter 97; both are
charged with organizing and participating in mass disorder and face up to 15
years in jail if convicted.