Gazeta Wyborcza Correspondent Andrzej Poczobut Imprisoned for Presence at Opposition Rally
Steven Ellis, Press Freedom Adviser
The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned Belarusian authorities' detention of Polish-Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut and called for his immediate release.
Poczobut, a reporter for Poland's major daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, was sentenced to 15 days in prison last Friday for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest rally on 19 December in Minsk following the disputed re-election of Alexander Lukashenko.
Police arrested Poczobut as he was covering the rally, but freed him the next day. He was later charged with participating in the rally and sentenced to pay a 400 Euro fine. Prosecutors appealed the verdict, and Poczobut was also sentenced last week to imprisonment.
According to Piotr Stasinksi, Gazeta Wyborcza deputy editor-in-chief and a member of IPI's Executive Board, Poczobut is an activist with the Association of Poles in Belarus, an organization regularly persecuted by Belarusian authorities. Poczobut has been a frequent target of government-inspired harassment in Belarus, Stasinski said, and authorities repealed Poczobut's press accreditation in 2009.
Stasinksi also said that Poczobut was stopped last month by the Belarusian security services, which are still called the KGB, in Grodno, where Poczobut lives, and brought in for questioning. Poczobut was held for nearly three hours, Stasinski added, and repeatedly hit and threatened with an eight-year prison sentence if he ever turned up again at an opposition rally.
"We strongly insist that the Belarusian authorities release our correspondent, who was performing his reporter's duties during the opposition rally," Stasinski commented. "If he is not released, it will mean that the Belarusian authorities persecute the freedom of the press."
IPI Press & Communications Manager Anthony Mills said: "It is absolutely vital that journalists be free to do their job - which includes covering demonstrations - without fear of arrest and imprisonment."
This press release is supported by the South and East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), an IPI affiliate.