Number of journalists currently held in jails in Belarus rises to 17

12:02, 28 March 2006
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Four other journalists were arrested on the night of 23-24 March.

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) has reported that four other journalists were arrested during the major police raid on the night of 23-24 March, bringing the number rounded up in the past week to 26 and the number still in prison to 17, according to a press-release of the Reporters Without Borders, forwarded to UNIAN.

They were arrested when anti-riot police charged demonstrators contesting President Alexander Lukashenko`s reelection and destroyed their camp. According to the latest Agence France-Presse estimate yesterday, the number of people arrested on October Square was 450.

The authorities are now sentencing people for participating in this "illegal gathering." Among the latest journalists to be convicted or arrested are:

- Vitali Vasilkov, Deutsche Welle`s correspondent in the eastern city of Mogiliyev, who was sentenced to seven days in prison on 23 March.

- Alexei Salej, the editor of the website Pahonia, who has been held since 24 March in the western city of Grodno, pending trial.

- Valeryi Shchukine, the correspondent of the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya in the northeastern city of Vitebsk, who was arrested for the first time on 17 March, released on 23 March and rearrested on 24 March as he was about to catch a train to go home.

-  Weronika Samolinska, an intern journalist with the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, who was sentenced to 10 days in prison on 27 March.

Lorraine Millot, the Moscow correspondent of the French daily Libération, was arrested on the night of 24 March in Minsk and was released a short while later. Another foreign journalist, Pavel Cheremet of the Russian TV station Pervyi Kanal (previously called ORT) was arrested yesterday. A well-known opponent of the Lukashenko regime, he was beaten before being released today and was told to leave the country within 48 hours.

For most part, detained independent journalists are sent to the provisional detention centre on Okrestina Street where they are being held in very grim conditions which have already been described by Reporters Without Borders.

Jérémi Lavoie, the brother of Canadian freelance journalist Frédérick Lavoie, who has been held since 24 March, told Reporters Without Borders he was very worried about his brother. He said he had been trying from his home in Quebec to obtain Frédérick`s release but had not succeeded in identifying the police section responsible. There was a complete lack of administrative transparency and officials were very hard to reach, he said.

Reporters Without Borders reiterated its call to foreign countries with representatives on the ground in Belarus to do everything possible to obtain the release of the 17 journalists currently detained there.

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