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BELARUS: Repression of Press Continues; Journalists Face Long Sentences

Wednesday 5 January 2011 - 12:00am

RAN 35/10 Update # 5 5 January 2011

The Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of PEN International is deeply concerned by the worsening situation in Belarus, which has seen the continued detention, maltreatment and impending prosecution of a number of writers and journalists, including members of the Belarus PEN Centre. The WiPC calls for the immediate release of all journalists and activists who have been detained for practicing their right to free expression, for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases, and for a full and proper investigation into reports of ill-treatment.

Following the mass arrest of protestors who demonstrated against the result of the flawed presidential elections of 19 December 2010, Belarusian state persecution of the media has increased dramatically. Recent developments have seen the Belarus PEN Centre's office in Minsk raided, with computers and papers seized; newspapers and pro-opposition media outlets have also been ransacked, with websites blocked. At least six noted journalists have been charged with ‘organizing mass disorder,' with some facing up to 23 years in prison if found guilty. There have also been very disturbing reports that the state has attempted to seize journalist Irina Khalip's 3-year-old son (currently staying with his grandparents). The child's father is the former opposition candidate for president, Andrei Sannikov.

Both non-governmental and inter-governmental bodies have raised concerns regarding the repressive atmosphere in Belarus. There are reports that the EU is considering re-introducing sanctions against Belarus. The Minsk office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) - which criticized the lack of transparency in the recent elections - has been forced into shutting down.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 20 journalists were arrested following the demonstrations. PEN can provide updates for the following writers and journalists who are currently detained:

Vladimir Neklyaev, writer, poet, former president of the Belarus PEN Centre and the Tell the Truth party's candidate in the presidential elections, is being held in a KGB detention centre, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots'). He was seriously beaten by the security services and suffers from high blood pressure. It is unclear what treatment he is receiving. He has been denied access to his lawyer.

Pavel Severinets, opposition activist, author of several books, and a member of Belarus PEN which recently awarded him their book of the year prize. He is also held in KGB detention, charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots').

Aleksandr Fiaduta, author, literary critic and member of Belarus PEN. A former staffer of Lukashenko's administration, he resigned in 1994 and published a critical biography - banned in Belarus - of the President. He is now a member of Neklyaev's Tell the Truth party and is charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots'). His suffers from diabetes and it is unclear what level of care - if any -he is receiving.

Natalia Radzina, who was arrested alongside all the staff and volunteers of Charter 97, was badly beaten after her arrest and there are distressing reports that she suffered bleeding from the ears. She has been charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder,' two separate charges in Belarus which carry potential sentences of 15 and 8 years' imprisonment respectively. She is being held in an isolation unit and her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.

Dimitri Bondarenko, of Charter 97, is being held by the KGB and is charged under Article 293 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘Organization of riots').

Irina Khalip, journalist for the Russian Novaya Gazeta and wife of opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov (also detained). She was severely beaten by police when giving an interview to the Russia radio station Echo Moskvy. She is being held in isolation by the KGB, and, like Nadina Radzina, is charged with ‘organizing and participating in mass disorder' and faces 23 years in prison if convicted. Her lawyer has been forced to sign a gagging order.

Appeals should be sent to the Belarusian authorities:
Condemning the arrest and ill-treatment of Vladimir Neklyaev, Irina Khalip, Nadina Radzina, Pavel Severinets, Aleksandr Fiaduta, Dimitri Bondarenko and other human rights activists and journalists;
Urging as a matter of urgency that all detainees be provided with appropriate medical attention;
Calling for an end to the persecution of press and media outlets by the Belarussian authorities;
Urging that all journalists and human rights activists be freed immediately and for the dismissal of politically-motivated criminal cases

Government address
President of the Republic of Belrus
Alyaksandr G. Lukashenka
Karl Marx Str. 38
220016 g. Minsk
Fax: + 375 172 26 06 10 or +375 172 22 38 72

Please note: there have been reports that the President's email address is not working, so please consider sending your appeals via the Belarusian government website

Similar appeals should be sent to the Belarusian Embassy in your own country.

PEN Centres may also consider sending messages of support to Vladimir Neklyaev via Sara Whyatt at PEN WiPC who will forward them to the Belarus PEN Centre

Please contact the address below for update on this alert if writing after 4 January 2011.