Pressure on independent journalists have increased in Belarus – searches, interrogations, initiating more and more new criminal cases.
Belarusian journalists Natallya Radzina, Iryna Khalip, Svyatlana Kalinkina, and Maryna Koktysh, persecuted in a criminal case initiated over the fact of libel against former Homel region KGB department Ivan Korzh, held a press conference today in the headquarters of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ).
Journalist of charter97.org Natallya Radzina reminded that interrogating officer of the Homel internal affairs department Alyaksandr Puseu familiarized her with a ruling on additional examination of eight computers seized from the apartment she rents. The aim of the examination is to find out if the journalist has any relation to charter97.org website administration. The actions of the militia prove that the defamation case is just a reason for pressing the popular opposition Internet resource.
Besides, the journalist said she learnt that a new criminal case over publications on charter97.org website had been initiated. The criminal case was started by the General Prosecutor’s Office over libel in … comments to some articles on the site. The matter is in the article, taken from the newspaper of Lukashenka’s administration “Sovetskaya Belorussia” by Afghan war veteran Alyaksandr Ryzhankou. The article was written in the traditions of Soviet propaganda, condemning afghan war veterans who oppose the authorities and refused to accept medal from Lukashenka.
“I relate the attack on charter97.org website to the upcoming presidential elections. The authorities are afraid of growing popularity of independent Internet resources, people look for the truth, they are tired of the lies told by the official mass media. I am sure the attack was caused by the fact that leader of the European Belarus civil campaign Andrei Sannikov announced his decision to run for presidency.
I appeal to you, colleague journalists. These two criminal cases were initiated to intimidate us. Don’t forget that journalists Paval Mazheika, Mikalai Markevich, and Viktar Ivashkevich have been sentenced to imprisonment in Belarus. Don’t forget that journalists Zmitser Zavadski and Veranika Charkasava were killed in this country. Lukashenka is afraid of the upcoming elections today as never before. For that fear Lukashenka is capable of everything. Anything can happen to us. Today, we need solidarity. Silence of the European Union, which doesn’t react to pressure on journalists in Belarus, insults us. Maybe Europe waits until we are killed?” Natallya Radzina wondered.
“Narodnaya Volya” journalists Svyatlana Kalinkina and Maryna Koktysh also told about their yesterday’s visits to the Pershmaiski district militia department in Minsk, where the four journalists had been called in for familiarizing them with the results of the computer and technical expert examination of their confiscated computers. No materials insulting Ivan Korzh were found. However, the computers haven’t been returned.
If it was ordered to send Natallya Radzina’s computers to an additional examination to find out whether administering of charter97.org website was made on them, the computers of Svyatlana Kalinkina and Iryna Khalip will undergo another examination to recover deleted and ciphered files. It was also ordered to crack emails and Skype passwords of the four journalists.
“I don’t know what they will look for in our computers. They are looking for information that bears no relation to the criminal case. I think is a ground to press on me and my colleagues who write about “loud” issues in order to discredit us. This pressure is applied on the independent journalists because of the upcoming presidential elections,” Svyatlana Kalinkina noted.
Maryna Koktysh, Deputy Editor of “Narodnaya Volya”, was summoned to the Internal Security Directorate of the Interior Affairs Ministry today, where she was told that during the search in her flat a document was found which concerned internal affairs bodies. “It was usual statistics: where and how many district police officers are lacking, what vacancies exist, which region leads in crimes and in what kind of crimes. It was dry and boring official statistics. I was told that some expert commission had made a conclusion that this information was “For Official Use Only”. And they started investigation who from the Interior Ministry officials could have given me this information,” Maryna Koktysh said.
During the press-conference Iryna Khalip, a journalist, called other journalists for solidarity and fight for their rights.
“First of all I would like to express gratitude to all Puseus and other Chujs for thanks to them we found out the most important thing yesterday: there is no criminal case in reality, and Korzh is nonexistent in nature. It is an invention. Yesterday Gyulchatai showed her sweet face [Gyulchatai is a character of the popular Soviet film “White Sun of the Desert”, a woman from a harem who was shrouded in full Islamic veil] and finally confirmed that there is a war on. Extermination of journalists is going on, and destruction of independent websites is going on.
After March 16 all of us met with representatives of the European Union. We were assured that a harsh reaction would follow soon. But no reaction would have been better than the reaction which followed. It was something like: “We certainly condemn this, but the regime has a chance to mend its ways at the local elections”. So there is no use to wait for an appropriate reaction of Europe. As long as gas and oil transit exist, as well as cement, manure and potatoes, all this potato and manure business would be more important than freedom of speech and our life.
Only journalists will save journalists. Experience has shown that only that is possible. Just remember 1997 when we, journalists, succeeded and made release Pavel Sharamet. 8 years after journalists of Austrian newspapers answered a question for asking which Valery Levaneuski had to spend 2 years in prison: at whose expense Alyaksandr Lukashenka had a holiday in Austria? So we can count on ourselves and our colleagues only. So I want to address my colleagues worldwide: thank you, colleagues, that you are not indifferent to what is happening to us, and we need your solidarity once again. Western mass media should know that by placing advertisements of companies which support the Belarusian regime, they indirectly participate in destruction of the freedom of speech. And Internet companies like Gmail, Yahoo, mail.ru, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, ICQ, Yandex and others should realize that not ours, but their mail accounts would be hacked into. Let us show solidarity, let us stand together. We shall overpower Lukashenka, a petty usurper, won't we?” the journalist said.
In the photo (left to right): Maruna Koktysh, Iryna Khalip, Natallya Radzina, and Svyatlana Kalinkina