Lukashenko Cracks Down On Journalists In Row With Poland

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Press Institute, (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres, RSF) have condemned the Belarusian government for targeting journalists of Polish origin amid an escalating diplomatic row between Belarus and Poland.

Since 6 July 2005, at least 19 journalists have been arrested, fined, sentenced to jail or banned from entering Belarus, says RSF. In one case, Andrzej Pisalnik, acting editor-in-chief of the Polish-language newspaper "Glos znad Niemna", was sentenced to 10 days in jail on 4 August for participating in an illegal Independence Day demonstration and for disobeying police, reports IFJ. Pisalnik is also a spokesman for the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), an organisation that has been accused of trying to overthrow the government.

RSF has written to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), urging its Representative on Freedom of the Media to raise the cases with Belarusian authorities. "Journalists must not be made to pay for the tension between the two countries," RSF says.

The President of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko, has accused the country's Polish community of seeking to overthrow the government with Poland's backing, reports BBC. Roughly 400,000 ethnic Poles live in Belarus. Poland has the support of much of the West in its desire to see political change in Belarus.

Belarus has one of the poorest free expression records in Europe. Since 2004, President Lukashenko's authoritarian regime has tightened its grip on the country's media, says RSF. The state media is flooded with pro-Lukashenko propaganda, which vilifies opposition leaders and independent media, and urges voters to support the president or face Western domination and political instability, notes CPJ.