New York, January 9, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s prison sentence in Minsk of independent journalist Aleksandr Borozenko, who reported on a one-person vigil this weekend for the Poland-based satellite broadcaster Belsat.
Agents with the Belarusian security service, the KGB, arrested Borozenko on Sunday, minutes after he started filming a one-man protest against the imprisonment of opposition activists in Belarus. A local rights activist, Nikolai Kovalenko, staged the vigil in front of the KGB headquarters in Minsk, the local press reported. The KGB arrested Kovalenko as well. Following the arrest, both men were taken to a police detention facility.
Today, Judge Aleksandr Khodonovich of the Central District Court in Minsk sentenced both Borozenko and Kovalenko to jail terms on charges of “violating the order of holding mass rallies.” Borozenko received 11 days in jail; Kovalenko–15, the Russian service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
According to the independent news website Charter 97, after hearing his own verdict, Borozenko began a hunger strike in protest.
“We call on Belarusian authorities to immediately release Aleksandr Borozenko, who was simply doing his job, reporting on a news event,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “The blitz trial in which Borozenko was pronounced guilty and sentenced to prison in just one day is a travesty of justice that cements the country’s reputation as the last dictatorship of Europe.
According to the independent news website Naviny, authorities briefly detained Borozenko on December 19, when he was filming a similar protest in front of the KGB. Prior to that, Borozenko was summoned to the Minsk prosecutor’s office in October, where he was questioned about his reporting for Belsat.
Belarusian authorities are notorious for their repression of independent media, journalists, and opposition activists, CPJ research shows. Following the flawed December 2010 presidential vote, the Belarusian police, the KGB, and state prosecutors have imprisoned, detained, and harassed independent journalists, raided newsrooms and confiscated reporting equipment, and appeared to sanction denial-of-service attacks on independent and opposition news websites.