OSCE protests to Belarus over jailed journalists

VIENNA, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Europe's top human rights watchdog has urged the government of Belarus to end attacks on independent reporters and release those being held, joining protests over a crackdown following a disputed presidential election last month.

The plea to President Alexander Lukashenko's hard-line government was made by Dunja Mijatovic, media freedoms chief at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"I am deeply concerned by the unprecedented wave of violence, intimidation, arrests and prosecution of journalists that started in the wake of the Dec. 19, 2010, presidential election," Mijatovic wrote to Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov, the Vienna-based OSCE said late on Wednesday.

She cited in particular the detentions of Irina Khalip, a correspondent for Russia's Novaya Gazeta newspaper, and Natalya Radina, the editor of the website.

She said they face up to 15 years in prison on charges of taking part in and organising "mass disorder".

She also noted that security forces had raided the offices of the Nasha Niva newspaper, the European Radio for Belarus and the Belsat television station while searching the homes and seizing equipment from several journalists who work there.

Mijatovic offered to visit Minsk to help ensure Belarus meets its OSCE media freedom commitments. Belarus ended the organisation's work there this month after the OSCE criticised Minsk's handling of the election. .

European Union governments have grown increasingly concerned over human rights violations in Belarus in recent weeks that included the detention of opposition leaders.

The EU may reinstate a visa ban on Lukashenko and other Belarus officials because of the crackdown, EU diplomats said on Tuesday. [ID:nN04241685]

The 27-member bloc imposed sanctions on Belarus after a disputed ballot in 2006 but suspended their application in 2008 to encourage democratic reforms. (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Jason Neely)


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