Belarus - List of imprisoned journalists lengthens as the authorities vow they "will not give way"

MONTREAL, March 30 /CNW Telbec/ - Three more journalists have been imprisoned, bringing to 20 the number currently detained, all of them accused of "hooliganism". Daria Kostenko, a freelance Belarussian journalist was arrested in an overnight roundup on 23-24 March and sentenced to ten days in prison. Two Russian journalists, Glezin Eduard and Oleg Kozlovskii, of the periodical Pravoe Delo, were arrested on 27 March, most likely at the same time, and have been sentenced to two weeks in a custody centre.

According to information gathered by the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), a total of around 40 journalists, about a score of them foreign, have been arrested by the authorities in Belarus from 14-27 March. They are accused of taking part in opposition rallies. Six of them have been released since then after serving sentences of up to five days in prison. Several others have been released after being briefly detained and at least three others were sentenced to pay a fine.

Polish, Georgian, Russian, Ukrainian and Canadian journalists are among those being held. On 29 March the spokesman for the Belarus Foreign Ministry, Maria Vanchina, said that Belarus would "not give way" to what the authorities termed "blackmail" on the part of the Canadian government. Canada has been trying to secure the release of the young stringer, Frederick Lavoie, who has been held since 24 March. A tense standoff has developed between the two countries and the Belarus authorities accuse the Canadian journalist of not being officially accredited to cover the elections.

Reporters Without Borders points out that the government in Minsk has been undertaking a protracted screening process of accreditations that foreign correspondents are obliged to obtain, since the start of 2006. The organisation has been told by several journalists, including freelances like Frederick Lavoie, that they had no choice but to enter the country as tourists, partly to be sure of obtaining a visa and partly so as to travel incognito and thus avoid official harassment. It is unusual for the Belarus consulate to officially refuse a visa request but the consular services know how to drag out the process for so long that journalists do not get their visas in time. This is, for example, what happened to Fabrice Node-Langlois, correspondent for the daily Le Figaro in Moscow, when he tried to get to Minsk...

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Canadian office representative, Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771,