2005: Belarus: General concern

President Alexander Lukashenko
The office of the President of Belarus
Fax: + 375 17 2260610

Oslo, August 24, 2005

Dear President Lukashenko

Norwegian non governmental organisations, the Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN, express grave concern over recent crackdown on free expression in general, and the harassment of Polish-speaking journalists in particular, in Belarus.

We are alarmed at the increased harassment of journalists and media outlets in Belarus, in particular those working for the Polish minority press and we strongly condemn this latest crackdown on local and foreign journalists working in your country. We urge the authorities to ensure everyone’s right «to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers» as stated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.»

According to information from the International Press Institute (IPI), several Polish and Belarusian journalists of Polish descent were recently harassed and detained in the Belarusian cities of Schuchin and Grodno. The Norwegian Journalists Association, the Human Rights House Foundation (HRH) and Norwegian PEN are particularly concerned about the following incidents:

On 1 August, Belarusian police arrested Andrzej Pisalnik, editor-in-chief of Glos znad Niemna, a Polish minority newspaper based in Belarus and a contributor to the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita in Schuchin.

* On 6 July, Pisalnik and several of his colleagues from Glos znad Niemna, as well as Andrzej Poczobut, editor-in-chief of Magazyn Polski, and Ivan Roman, a reporter for the Solidarnost newspaper, were arrested by police in Grodno, while they were protesting in the city centre against the harassment of their newspapers.

* On 27 July, special police officers and plainclothes policemen entered the SPB headquarters and detained many of the journalists present in the offices at the time. Among them were Pisalnik, Inesa Todryk, a reporter for Glosznad Niemna, Waclaw Radziwinowicz and Robert Kowalewski, journalists for Gazeta Wyborcza, Pavel Mazheika, the head of the Grodno office of the BAJ, and Siarhey Hryts, a photographer for the Associated Press (AP).

* On 27 July, Schuchin police detained Agnieszka Romaszewska, a Polish journalist for the television channel TVP1, near the «Polish House» in Schuchin, where a conference of the outgoing members of the SPB was beingheld at the time. Reportedly, she did not have the necessary accreditation from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

* On 27. July 2005, Andrei Pochobut, editor-in-chief of the Polish-language magazine «Magazyn Polski», was given a 15-day prison sentence for «taking part in an illegal demonstration» in the western town of Shchuchin on 3 July and for «civil disobedience» in protesting the government’s taking control of the Union of Poles in Belarus.

* On 6. August 2005 The expulsion of Adam Tuchlinksi, 25, of the weekly news magazine Przekroj. Tuchlinksi is a Polish photojournalist who was expelled from Belarus and banned from the country for five years.

* On 11. August 2005 beating of Pawel Reszka, Moscow correspondent for the Polish daily «Rzeczpospolita».

* On 16. August 2005 raids were carried out by the Belarusian secret police (KGB) in Minsk and the western city of Grodno. The KGB raided the apartments of three young members of the Third Way opposition movement who reportedly create satirical, animated cartoons for Internet distribution. The KGB confiscated at least 12 computers and other equipment used to produce the cartoons and interrogated three Third Way members.

The Norwegian Union of Journalists (NJ), the Human Rights House Foundation and Norwegian PEN condemn the authorities´ attempts to worsen the relationship between the Belarusian and the Polish people. We appeal to the Committee for Religious and National Questions to respect the freedom of association and ensure that the Association of Belarusian Poles is free to operate without restrictions.

We urge the Belarusian authorities to:

– give Polish diplomats permission to enter Belarus

– recognise the election of the new leader of the Association of Belarusian Poles

Angelika Borys, who was elected chairwoman of the Polish Association in March 2005

– respect freedom of expression and stop hounding and arresting journalists from Belarus´s Polish minority as part of  your present conflict with neighbouring Poland.

.
Sincerely
Maria Dahle          Ann-Magrit Austenå             Carl Morten Iversen
director, HRH        president, NJ                       secretary general, Norwegian PEN

Cc:

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Belarusian Ministry of Justice
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Constitutional Court in Belarus
The Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kiev
Association of  Belarusian Poles
Association of Polish Journalists
Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ)
Law Initiative, Pravova Initiativa
PEN Belarus
Polish Society Assosiation in Belarus
OSCE