New York, February 11, 2011--The Committee to Protect
Journalists condemns today's imprisonment in Minsk of Andrzej
Poczobut, a Grodno correspondent for the largest Polish daily,
Gazeta Wyborcza, and calls on
Belarusian authorities to release him immediately.
According to reports
in the local press, the Oktyabrsky District Court in Minsk sentenced Poczobut to 15 days in jail
on charges of "participation in the unsanctioned protest rally" that followed the
December 19 presidential elections. Poczobut covered the protests for Gazeta Wyborcza, he told CPJ in January.
It is the second time in a month that the same court sentenced
Poczobut on the same charges. On
January 12, agents with the Belarusian security service, the KGB, detained Poczobut
in Grodno, and brought him to the Minsk court the next day. He
was sentenced to a fine of 1.75 million Belarusian rubles (about US$580), and
released. According to the independent news website Charter 97,
Minsk prosecutors protested the sentence, which they called mild.
"We are outraged that Andrzej Poczobut was not only
convicted on a trumped-up charge but that he has now been given jail time after
already receiving a sentence of a fine," said CPJ Europe and Central Asia
Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.
"By stiffening its own sentence in the same case within a month, the Belarusian
court revealed itself to be just another cog in the country's repressive
machine. We call for Poczobut's immediate release."
Since December 19, authorities have been relentlessly pressuring
Poczobut in what appears to be retaliation for his journalism. He was among
more than two
dozen journalists detained at the protest rally in Minsk. Although unlike
many, Poczobut was released from the state custody the next day, police and
the KGB continued to harass and interrogate him.
January 8, Grodno
police detained and brought Poczobut to the regional KGB headquarters, where he
was questioned about his role at the protest rally. After he refused to answer
questions without his lawyer present, KGB agents struck him in the chest and
head, he 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 future. Four days later, the KGB
raided his apartment, confiscated computer, six hard drives, two flash
drives, and archives of Magazyn Polski na
Uchodzstwie, an independent magazine to which he has contributed, and then
In power since 1994, Lukashenko won a fourth term in office
in the December 19 ballot with just under 80 percent of the vote, according to
the state Central Election Commission. Thousands of protesters marched on the
streets of Minsk, calling the elections stolen and demanding his resignation.
Authorities harshly suppressed the protests and retaliated against the
independent and pro-opposition media that covered the events. The KGB and
the newsrooms and apartments of journalists, confiscated
reporting equipment, and imprisoned
Poczobut is one of two journalists currently
in jail in Belarus,
CPJ research shows.