Open letter to Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media

"Four journalists imprisoned and some 15 others prevented from working"

Mr. Miklos Haraszti, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Vienna AUSTRIA

Paris, 11 August 2005

Dear Mr. Haraszti,

Reporters Without Borders would like to share with you its concern about the action of the Belarusian authorities in preventing Polish journalists and journalists from Belarus' ethnic Polish minority from freely working on several occasions since March. The frequency of these press freedom violations has increased since 6 July.

To our knowledge, a total of four journalists of Polish nationality or from Belarus' Polish minority have been sentenced to prison sentences of 10 to 15 days. We have also registered at least 13 cases of journalists being arrested, two cases of journalists being fined and two cases of journalists being banned from re-entering Belarus.

- Andrei Pochobut, the editor of the publication Magazyn Polski, and Ihar Bantsar of Glos znad Niemna, a Polish-language weekly published in Belarus, were fined 2,000 and 200 euros respectively on 6 July for taking part in a demonstration against the action of the Belarusian authorities in publishing four falsified copies of Glos znad Niemna.

- Andrei Pochobut of Magazyn Polski was sentenced to 15 days in prison on 27 July for "participating in an illegal demonstration in Shchuchin on 3 July and civil disobedience." Two of his colleagues, Josef Pazhetski and Mieczylau Jaskiewicz, were sentenced to 10 days in prison for the same offence. They had participated in a protest against the government's takeover of the Union of Belarusian Poles.

- Three Polish journalists, Waclaw Radzinowicz and Robert Kowalewski of Gazeta Wyborcza (the biggest Polish daily) and Agnieszka Romaszewska of the Polish television station TVP1, were arrested by the police on 27 July when they came to cover their colleagues' trial.

- Ten Belarusian and Polish journalists with Gazeta Wyborcza, Associated Press, Glos znad Niemna, Nasha Niva, Pressbol and the website who were present when special forces took over the headquarters of the Union of Belarusian Poles at 10 p.m. on 27 July were detained and taken to a police station before being released two hours later.

- Andrzej Pisalnik, the editor of the weekly Glos znad Niemna and a contributor to Gazeta Wyborcza, was sentenced by a court in the western city of Lida on 4 August to 10 days in prison for "participating in an illegal demonstration in Shchuchin on 3 July and civil disobedience."

- Marcin Smialowski, the former correspondent in Belarus of the Polish news agency Polska Agencja Prasowa and a stringer for the Polish public radio station Polskie Radio and the privately-owned television station TVN, was refused entry by Belarusian border guards on 5 August despite having a visa and the necessary accreditation.

- Adam Tuchlinski, a Polish news photographer with the weekly Przekroj, was arrested on 6 August in the western city of Grodno as he was about to board a train to return to Poland. Officials said Tuchlinski, who was travelling on a tourist visa, did not have the necessary accreditation. He is now banned from visiting Belarus for five years.

Knowing your commitment to press freedom, we appeal to you to intervene with the appropriate authorities with the aim of guaranteeing the safety and freedom of journalists in Belarus. Our organisation believes that journalists should not be the direct of indirect victims of the current diplomatic crisis between Poland and Belarus.

We trust you will give this matter your careful consideration.

Robert Menard