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Polish daily's correspondent arrested again

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is outraged that Andrey Pachobut, the correspondent of the Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza", has been detained since 6 April 2011, when he was arrested as he was trying to leave the western city of Hrodna to take part in a videoconference in Minsk with members of the European Parliament about the persecution of journalists in Belarus.

It seems that the government's conciliatory gestures in recent days were designed solely to woo the international community and persuade countries to resume their aid to Belarus, which is experiencing a serious economic crisis. Journalists who covered the 19 December 2010 opposition protests are still being harassed by the police and judicial authorities.

Police stopped Pachobut's car in Hrodna on 6 April and took him before the local state prosecutor who told him he was banned from leaving the city because he is facing trial on a charge of insulting the president. When allowed to leave the prosecutor's office, Pachobut nonetheless set off for Minsk again only to be intercepted and arrested about 30 km outside of Hrodna. He is now being held in a Hrodna detention centre and it is not known when he could be released.

Pachobut served a two-week jail sentence for his supposed participation in the 19 December 2010 protests, which he covered as a reporter. On 28 March, he was charged with insulting President Alexander Lukashenko in various articles published in "Gazeta Wyborcza" and posted online.

His apartment was searched a few days later by three KGB agents, who confiscated his computer as "the crime weapon." He was originally told to report for interrogation on 7 April but he requested a postponement. He is facing a possible sentence of two years in a labour camp on the charge of insulting the president.

In a sign of a continuing climate of fear, Natalia Radzina, the editor of the http://www.Charter97 news website, has fled the country. Facing a possible 15-year jail sentence on a charge of "organising or participating in a riot," Radzina left after receiving a summons from the KGB in Minsk, which she feared could lead to her being formally charged and imprisoned. She spent a month in prison after he arrest on 19 December 2010.

Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that her family is now being harassed. Since her flight, several of her relatives had been summoned by the KGB and her father received a visit from security agents at his workplace. Her newspapers, the letters of support that she had received, and her computer have all been confiscated.

The harsh repression that followed the 19 December 2010 protests had nonetheless been replaced by a few conciliatory gestures towards journalists and the opposition in recent days. One of the opposition leaders, Anatol Lynbedzka, was released on 6 April. Two days before that, the foreign ministry announced charges against a dozen government opponents and "Novaya Gazeta" reporter Irina Khalip.

Instead of being charged with "organising or participating in a riot," which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, Khalip is now charged with "organising and preparing a disruption of public order," which carries a maximum three-year sentence. Around 60 government opponents and civil society figures are still facing prosecution for allegedly participating in December 2010 protests.
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