Belarus authorities threaten to take journalist's three-year-old son into custody

Authorities in Belarus are threatening to take into custody the three-year-old son of a journalist who has been under arrest since 19 December on what are regarded as trumped-up charges.

Irina Khalip, an award-winning investigative journalist, was detained with her husband, Andrei Sannikov, following a demonstration against the re-election of the veteran hardline president, Alexander Lukashenko.

Sannikov stood as a candidate against Lukashenko and is one of four candidates now in custody and facing 15-year jail sentences.

Since the couple's arrest, their son, Danil, has been cared for by Irina's mother, Lyutsina. She says the boy asks constantly about his parents.

Child welfare officers have required Lyutsina to pass several medical tests in order to assess whether she is capable of looking after Danil. He has also had to undergo a medical examination.

Secret service agents have raided both Lyutsina's apartment and that of her daughter to seize the journalist's computer.

Khalip is a correspondent for the Moscow-based newspaper Novaya Gazeta, partially owned by Alexander Lebedev, the publisher of the British papers, The Independent and the London Evening Standard.

She and Sannikov were pulled from their car after police had broken up a protest rally in Minsk on the night of 19 December.

During the clash with the police, Sannikov was beaten and his leg was broken. Khalip was giving a telephone interview to radio station Echo Moskvy when she was detained by Belarus's security agency, which is still called the KGB.

The couple are now accused of organising and participating in the demonstrations under an article of the country's criminal code relating to "mass disturbances".

Meanwhile, a media crackdown continues. On Wednesday, the government closed Autoradio, a popular private station, accusing it of broadcasting calls for "extremist behaviour".

The day before, police raided Borisovskyie Novosti, an independent weekly in Barysaw, a town in the Minsk region, confiscating newsroom equipment. Later, they stormed into the home of the editor, Anatol Bukas.

Five KGB agents also searched the apartment of Larysa Shchyrakova, a journalist who works with BelSat TV channel, and seized several items.

Anthony Mills, the International Press Institute's press freedom manager, said: "We call upon the authorities to release the journalists imprisoned because of their work, including Irina Khalip, and to ensure that the media are free to report without fear of assault, arrest and imprisonment.

"We also call on the European Union to take a strong stance on the continuing violation in Belarus of fundamental human rights."


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