Reporter for Polish paper faces insult charge in Belarus

New York, March 30, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Belarusian authorities today to stop the politically motivated prosecution of Andrzej Poczobut, a prominent correspondent for Poland's largest daily, Gazeta Wyborcza.

On Monday, prosecutors in the western city of Grodno filed criminal charges against Poczobut for allegedly insulting Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko in articles printed in Gazeta Wyborcza and the Belarusian news website Belarussky Partizan beginning in October 2010, local and international press reported. Poczobut faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

On Tuesday, agents with the Belarusian security agency KGB raided Poczobut's Grodno apartment, seized a computer, and took an inventory of his possessions as potential compensation to Lukashenko, the journalist told CPJ.

"We condemn the trumped-up defamation charges against our colleague Andrzej Poczobut and call on Belarusian authorities to scrap them immediately, return all seized property to the journalist and stop harassing him," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Belarusian authorities' anti-press actions have reached epic proportions and must be ceased at once."

Poczobut told CPJ an indictment against him cites articles he had written in the run-up to the flawed December 19 presidential election and its aftermath. Observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe criticized the government for secretive vote-counting practices and suppression of news media during that period. CPJ documented the arrests of at least 20 journalists who sought to cover flaws in the election and public protests in its aftermath.

Poczobut told CPJ he does not intend to leave the country despite the official persecution. "I criticized Lukashenko and his security services for manipulating the vote and the post-election crackdown, but I did not insult the president," Poczobut told CPJ.

Belarusian authorities have sought to intimidate Poczobut in the past, CPJ research shows. Since the post-election crackdown against the independent press and opposition activists, Poczobut was imprisoned, had his apartment raided multiple times by police, was interrogated by the KGB in Grodno and the capital, Minsk, and had his reporting equipment confiscated. CPJ continues to advocate on his behalf.


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