Vienna, 29 December 2010 - The International Press Institute (IPI), and its affiliate organisation, the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), are alarmed that dozens of journalists arrested in a brutal police crackdown on demonstrations that followed the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko on 19 December remain in prison, some of them reportedly in KGB investigation wards.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), 24 journalists were arrested in the crackdown, and 21 were physically assaulted.
A number of the arrested journalists have already been sentenced to up to two weeks' detention. Others remain "under investigation" - some of them in the "KGB ward" of a Belarus prison, according to sources.
Since the crackdown, there have also been raids on critical Belarusian media outlets and equipment has been confiscated, according to the independent website charter97.org.
Among those journalists arrested were Iryna Khalip, a correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a BAJ member. Earlier this month, Khalip received the CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism.
According to the BAJ website, Khalip was being held in the "KGB investigation ward". On 21 December, BAJ also reported that Khalip met her lawyer but her parents were not allowed to send her a parcel. The website said she was being treated as a suspect in a criminal case initiated under an article of the Criminal Code relating to "mass disturbances".
The BAJ website also reported that Natalya Radzina, a BAJ member and editor of charter97.org, was beaten by police in Minsk's Independence Square on the evening of 19 December and was later detained when police raided the offices of charter97.org. The website said Radzina was being held in the "investigative isolation ward of [the] KGB (State Security Committee)", and, like Khalip, was being treated as a suspect under the Criminal Code article related to "mass disturbances." The website reported today that Radzina is suffering from bleeding from her ears due to being beaten.
Oliver Vujovic, Secretary General of the South and East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), said: "We are alarmed at the arrests and jail sentences handed down to journalists. In particular, we are concerned that Natalya Radina, the editor of the website Charter 97, and Irina Khalip, correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, remain in detention, at the Minsk detention facility of the Belarusian police. We would like to remind the Belarusian authorities that only a few weeks ago, on 2 December 2010, Iryna Khalip received our CEI SEEMO Investigative Journalism Award."
Vujovic added: "We are disturbed by the fact that Khalip was forcibly taken by police while on the air with the radio station Echo Moskvy on 20 December 2010. Her husband, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, was also arrested. For us, it is important that in Belorussia journalists be able to work independently, professionally and freely, like in other countries."
IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: "We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all of the journalists and to transparently investigate assaults committed against them. Press freedom is a fundamental human right anywhere in the world, and journalists should be able to do their work without fear of arrest, assault and imprisonment."
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic and IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills are open to the possibility of visiting Minsk and of meeting with journalists and authorities in connection with the post-election developments.