IPI Concerned Over Ongoing Harassment of Journalists in Belarus

According to information before the International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, several Polish and Belarusian journalists of Polish descent were recently harassed and detained in the Belarusian cities of Schuchin and Grodno.

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. Pisalnik, who is also a spokesperson for the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), was detained on charges of "participating in an illegal gathering," a concert organised by the SPB in Belarus on 3 July. On 4 August, Pisalnik was tried and jailed for ten days. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) criticised the court's decision. Several other members of the SPB were handed down sentences of about two weeks.

This is not the first attack on Glos znad Niemna. According to reports, in late May a printing plant in Grodno refused to print an issue of the weekly, and in June, the same printing plant printed two bogus issues of the newspaper, which carried articles presenting the government's official stance in the conflict with the SPB. Editor-in-chief Andrzej Pisalnik said that he knew nothing about the fake editions, and appealed to the police and prosecution about the illegal use of the newspaper's name.

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 Glos znad 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). They spent about two hours in detention and were all later released. However, photographs the journalists managed to take during their detainment were reportedly destroyed by the police.

Also 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 being held at the time. Reportedly, she did not have the necessary accreditation from the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"IPI is alarmed at the increased harassment of journalists and media outlets in Belarus, in particular those working for the Polish minority press," IPI Director Johann Fritz said commenting on the situation.

"We strongly condemn this latest crackdown on local and foreign journalists working in Belarus. 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," he added.