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AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS

Press freedom groups worldwide have condemned the sudden, "unprecedented" crackdown on independent journalists by the Belarusian authorities. Reporters have been arrested and beaten and have had their homes raided in recent days, which critics term a "gross violation" of the right to free expression.

On 25 March, during demonstrations to mark the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, "Nasha Niva" photographer Andrei Lankievich was brutally beaten by riot police. Together with dozens of other detained Belarusians he spent a night in jail and now faces trial.

Another "Nasha Niva" correspondent, Siamion Piechanko, was sentenced to 15 days of detention under Belarusian administrative law. Both journalists were charged with organising and holding an illegal demonstration. Their press ID was ignored by police, says the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) reports that also among those attacked were foreign journalists, including two Lithuanian TV reporters who were badly beaten as they attempted to film the events.

Then on 27 March, Belarus's security service, the KGB, raided the offices and homes of more than a dozen journalists from independent and foreign news media. BAJ reports that the agents confiscated computers, videotapes, voice recorders and other equipment and questioned at least 16 journalists, possibly in relation to a 2005 cartoon video that ridiculed President Alexander Lukashenko. According to Belarusian law, libel against the president is punishable with up to four years in jail.

"The authorities are most likely taking their revenge for impartial coverage of not only the 25 March demonstration in Minsk but also truthful information about the country's social and economic situation," says BAJ.

IFEX members Norwegian PEN, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and WiPC have appealed to the Belarusian government to end the crackdown.
President Lukashenko, often dubbed "Europe's last dictator", has reined in independent and opposition media through a combination of punitive measures, ranging from filing lawsuits to detaining and harassing journalist, says CPJ. The government relies on security forces, prosecutors, judges, media regulators, pro-government businesses and a secretive bureaucracy to create a climate of fear for the independent media, says CPJ.
Visit these links:
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/35momj
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5999&Language=EN
- IFJ, "Belarus: the Struggle for Press Freedom": http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?index=5922&Language=EN
- Norwegian PEN: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92011/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26376
- WiPC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92098/
- BAJ: http://baj.by/?newlang=eng
(1 April 2008)

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