Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent facing four-year jail term

Published on Tuesday 14 June 2011.
Andrey Pachobut, the correspondent of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, is facing a possible four-year prison sentence in the trial that began today before the Leninski district court in the western city of Grodno.
Arrested on 6 April (see below), he is accused of defamation and insulting the president under articles 367.1 and 368.1 of the criminal code in a total of ten reports posted on the Gazeta Wyborcza website, the website and in his blog.
“The severity of the sentence Pachobut is facing on such absurd charges testify to the autocratic insanity to which President Alexander Lukashenko has subjected his country,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Neither Pachobut’s family nor his fellow journalists were able to attend today’s hearing. This casts serious doubts on the chances of a fair trial.”
The press freedom organization added: “We call for all future hearings to be public until the charges against Pachobut are dismissed.”
At least three journalists have been imprisoned in Belarus in the past 10 years on charges of insulting the president. Belarus is ranked 154th out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
(Photo: BelaPAN)
08.04.2011 - Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent Andrey Pachobut arrested again
Reporters Without Borders is outraged that Andrey Pachobut, the correspondent of the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, had been detained since 6 April, when he was arrested as he was trying to leave the western city of Hrodna to take part in a videoconference in Minsk with Members of the European Parliament about the persecution of journalists in Belarus.
It seems that the government’s conciliatory gestures in recent days were designed solely to woo the international community and persuade countries to resume their aid to Belarus, which is experiencing a serious economic crisis. Journalists who covered the 19 December opposition protests are still being harassed by the police and judicial authorities.
Police stopped Pachobut’s car in Hrodna on 6 April and took before the local state prosecutor, who told him he was banned from leaving the city because he is facing trial on a charge of insulting the president. When allowed to leave the prosecutor’s office, Pachobut nonetheless set off for Minsk again only to be intercepted and arrested about 30 km outside of Hrodna. He is now being held in a Hrodna detention centre and it is not known when he could be released.
Pachobut served a two-week jail sentence for his supposed participation in the 19 December protests, which he covered as a reporter. On 28 March, he was charged with insulting President Alexander Lukashenko in various articles published in Gazeta Wyborcza and posted online.
His apartment was searched a few days later by three KGB agents, who confiscated his computer as “the crime weapon.” He was originally told to report for interrogation yesterday but he requested a postponement. He is facing a possible sentence of two years in a labour camp on the charge of insulting the president.
In a sign of a continuing climate of fear, Natalia Radzina, the editor of the Charter 97 news website, has fled the country. Facing a possible 15-year jail sentence on a charge of “organizing or participating in a riot,” Radzina left after receiving a summons from the KGB in Minsk, which she feared could lead to her being formally charged and imprisoned. She spent a month in prison after he arrest on 19 December.
Reporters Without Borders is appalled to learn that her family is now being harassed. Since her flight, several of her relatives had been summoned by the KGB and her father received a visit from security agents at his workplace. Her newspapers, the letters of support that she had received, and her computer have all been confiscated.
The harsh repression that followed the 19 December protests had nonetheless been replaced a few conciliatory gestures towards journalists and the opposition in recent days. One of the opposition leaders, Anatol Lynbedzka, was released on 6 April. Two days before that, the foreign ministry announced that the charges against a dozen government opponents and Novaya Gazeta reporter Irina Khalip.
Instead of being charged with “organizing or participating in a riot,” which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, Khalip is now charged “organizing and preparing a disruption of public order,” which carries a maximum three-year sentence. Around 60 government opponents and civil society figures are still facing prosecution for allegedly participating in last December’s protests.