Prosecutor attacks journalist for tarnishing country's international image

Reporters Without Borders

The prosecutor in Hrodna, eastern Belarus, has summoned two independent journalists and threatened them with legal action for "working without accreditation" and for "bringing the international image of Belarus into disrepute", following the publication of articles on local police negligence.

A warning received by Ivan Roman, correspondent for Polish-based Radio Racyja, on 3 September 2007, related to a case in which local police moved offices leaving behind criminal records, photographs of crime victims, as well as prosecution exhibits, including three fingers in a test tube. The journalist said photos of the items posted online backed up his report.

"Without commenting on the unusual nature of the report produced by this journalist, we stress the importance we attach to freedom of information in Belarus, which should not be limited by threats of any kind," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Seeking to punish a journalist for tarnishing the international image of a country like Belarus seems as inappropriate as were the blunders made by the police in this case," it said.

Roman said he had refused to give way to what he called "intimidation", but feared that the prosecutor could come back with a solid case against him. Other articles he has written, including in the run-up the 2006 presidential elections, could be used against him. He would then face up to two years in prison.

The authorities also accuse Roman of not having official accreditation. A second journalist in the same situation is Ales Karniyenka, another contributor to Radio Racyja, who received a warning from the same prosecutor on 22 September that he was working as a correspondent without being accredited by the state.

He is the fifth journalist to face the threat of losing his right to work. The other cases are those of Anatol Hatowchyts, working for RFE/RL, Natallya Makushyna, of Deutsche Welle, Yuliya Salnikawa working for DW and Ivan Roman.

Radio Racyja and a satellite TV channel due to start broadcasting from Poland at the beginning of 2008, are among a group of EU-funded projects designed to create a media corridor.