9 February 2011

Heavy restrictions for released journalists

The Belarusian security service (KGB) has released women journalists Natalya Radina and Irina Khalip, but has upheld criminal charges against them and has severely restricted their activities, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International (WiPC).

KGB agents imprisoned Radina and Khalip on 19 December, following post-election opposition protests in Minsk, and indicted them on charges of organising mass disorder. Both journalists face up to 15 years in prison if convicted, says CPJ.

According to CPJ, Radina, editor of the pro-opposition news website Charter 97, was released from a KGB detention facility on 28 January on condition that she immediately return to her hometown of Kobrin. She is not allowed to leave the town and must report to the local police daily. Radina also said the KGB confiscated her passport and barred her from speaking about her case.

Khalip, a correspondent for the Moscow newspaper "Novaya Gazeta", was freed on 29 January but placed under house arrest in Minsk, reports CPJ. She is banned from leaving her apartment, communicating by phone and Internet, and reading newspapers.

Two KGB agents are stationed at Khalip's apartment to ensure she does not violate the conditions, says the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an affiliate of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Only Khalip's parents and her 3-year-old son are allowed contact with her. Her husband, opposition leader Andrei Sannikov, remains behind bars, says Charter97.

"Belarus has given a new meaning to house arrest. Stationing two KGB agents in a journalist's apartment to make sure she doesn't read a newspaper is surreal," said CPJ.

Vladimir Neklyaev, the former president of Belarus PEN Centre, has also been released but has been placed under house arrest, says WiPC.

IFEX members widely condemned the crackdown on opposition activists and independent journalists that followed the flawed presidential elections in December 2010.

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