Belarus is said to be Europe’s last dictatorship. This week, trials of the prisoners held since a crackdown on a post-election rally will open -- over 600 people were arrested on 19 December in Independence Square in Minsk. Belarus and foreign journalists were attacked by Special Forces, beaten up, wrestled to the ground and made to lie in the snow, and had their equipment destroyed.
From then on it was open season on journalists. According to the IFJ member union, the Belarussian Association of Journalists, at least 27 journalists were detained, more than 20 reporters suffered from violence at the hands of the police, and 10 journalists served terms of administrative arrests of 10 to 15 days.
Currently six members of BAJ are in detention accused of organising mass disturbances and participating in them. They are Natallia Radzina, editor of the Charter'97 website; Iryna Khalip, a staff correspondent of Novaya Gazeta, Russia; freelance journalist Aliaksandr Fiaduta; Sergey Vozniak, Editor of Tovarishch newspaper; broadcaster Dzmitry Bandarenka; and writer Pavel Seviarynets. They have been charged with violating Article 292 of the Criminal Code (Mass Disturbances) and can be jailed up to 15 years.
The IFJ has joined the Belarusian Association of Journalists in demanding the immediate release of its members who are kept behind bars. Last Saturday, the Belarus Committee, a recently launched London-based held a demonstration outside the Belarusian in London and handed in a letter of protest. I will be joining them in their future activities. We must do everything we can to get these colleagues out of jail.