Two more journalists arrested in Belarus

Belarusian independent journalists Dzmitry Halko and Aliaksandr Yarashevich were sentenced to ten and twelve days of detention, respectively, on Tuesday.

The pair were detained by police in Minsk on Monday evening when they were leaving a meeting with civic activists who had been released from detention. The activists had been detained for involvement in the Chernobyl Way rally on 26 April. Aliaksandr Yarashevich was also detained then, and served three days of arrest – only to receive another, harsher sentence on Tuesday.

The journalists were charged with noncompliance with orders of the police and petty hooliganism. Just like during the trial of 29 April, the sentences were based on contradictory testimonies of the police officers; one of them even admitted he re-wrote the detention protocols. The reporters denied the charges.

Independent journalists who arrived at the court to support their colleagues and report from the trials were not permitted to take photos or videos. The judges also barred audio recordings of the hearings.

While ratcheting up pressure on independent journalists, Belarusian authorities are signalling that they are eager for more dialogue with the European Union.   It resembles the situation of 2008 and 2009, when the police interfered with the work of reporters in Belarus, despite the broadening of official contacts between Belarus and the EU and hints of liberalisation inside of the country.

As Index pointed out in its recent Belarus: Pulling the Plug policy paper, keeping a tight rein on information remains at the core of the Belarusian regime’s policy of self-preservation. The recent events show the authorities of the country are not going to ease their grip on free media and independent journalists.

Belarusian journalists draw sentences for covering opposition rally

Reporters of Radio Racyja, Henadz Barbarych and Aliaksandr Yarashevich, spent three days of administrative arrest after they had been detained in Minsk on 26 April.

The independent journalists covered an annual street action of the Belarusian opposition, The Chernobyl Way, that commemorates the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.

The journalists were detained by plain-clothed police officers on Friday evening on their way to editorial office. The police claimed the journalists “behaved in a suspicious way” and allegedly forcibly resisted detention. Barbarych and Yarashevich spent the weekend in a detention centre and stood an administrative trial on Monday. Judge Kiryl Paluleh sentenced them to three days of arrest each for “unlawful resistance to legitimate claims of police officers”, despite the fact accusations against the reporters were only based on contradictory evidence from the police.

The journalists denied the charges, saying the plain-clothed officers failed to present valid police IDs and they did not resist their detention.

Both reporters were released on Monday evening.

“I think the reason for our detention were pictures we made. Our cameras were confiscated, and given back to us with all the photos deleted,” Henadz Barbarych told Radio Liberty.

Detentions and physical violence of the police against journalists during street rallies have become quite common in Belarus.

Several civil activists were also detained on 26 April. Short-term detentions were aimed at preventing activists of a Belarusian ecological and anti-nuclear movement from participating in the rally. Three more activists were detained after The Chernobyl Way; one of them, Ihar Truhanovich, was  beaten by the police. Iryna Arahouskaya and Aksana Rudovich, journalists of the Nasha Niva newspaper, who were filming the beating of Truhanovich, were also detained for about an hour, but later released.

“The authorities of Belarus keep demonstrating its brutality. They act with impunity for citizens of Belarus to keep living in fear. Such illogical and unnecessary violence serves as a signal to the society that even if the government sanctions events, they don’t endorse them, and people should be afraid to participate in any oppositional street actions,” says Uladzimir Matskevich, the Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Belarus National Civil Society Platform.

Libel reform under threat

This is a statement from The Libel Reform Campaign

Four days before the Defamation Bill has its final and decisive debate in the House of Commons we find ourselves writing to you about disgraceful behaviour from politicians that will put everything we’ve worked for at risk.

Conservative MP and libel barrister Sir Edward Garnier is trying to remove the part of the Bill that would limit companies’ ability to use libel threats to intimidate critics into silence. His attempt to remove this will be voted on during debate on the Bill on Tuesday 14thApril. Please write to your MP and tell them not to support Garnier’s amendment.

We’ve heard that the Conservatives might back Garnier on this, and that the Lib Dems will join their Conservative colleagues even though restricting corporations from suing individuals unless they can prove harm is Lib Dem party policy! It was voted for overwhelmingly in the House of Lords. Please write to Nick Clegg and David Cameron and urge them to tell their parties not to support Garnier and to make sure the clause on companies becomes part of the Defamation Bill.

Read our briefing for MPs on why this along with a clear strong public interest defence would do the most to lessen the damage the laws are doing to free and open debate. A Bill without either reform would be a wasted opportunity. Please point your MP towards our briefing when you write to them.

We’ve seen the best of democracy in action – we have forced libel reform onto the political agenda and when politicians have listened to us all we’ve seen the best improvements to the Defamation Bill. But behind closed door dealing and cowardly behaviour threatens everything we’ve worked for. Please tell your MP not to support Garnier amendment and tell David Cameron and Nick Clegg that the Government shouldn’t either.

Index Index – International free speech round up 12/02/13

David Cecil, the British theatre producer who faced a legal battle with Ugandan authorities for staging a play about homosexuality has been deported from Uganda. Cecil’s legal team had been hoping to appeal the Ugandan court’s deportation ruling, but he was flown from the country unexpectedly on Monday, leaving behind his partner and two children. Cecil was arrested in September last year for his play The River and the Mountain, which explored the difficulties of being gay in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal. He faced two years in prison before charges were dropped, due to a lack of evidence but was rearrested last week. Cecil’s legal team are planning to contest the decision.

Stephen Wandera - AP

Playwright David Cecil has been deported from Uganda for his homosexual themed play

Women and children in Saudi Arabia have been arrested for protesting the conviction of their relatives, who are political prisoners. At least 26 women and five children at demonstrations in the cities of Riyadh and Buraida were taken into custody on 9 February. They had been protesting against the imprisonment of relatives they say have been held for years without access to lawyers or a trial. According to reports three of the arrested women are the wife, daughter and granddaughter of political activist Suleiman al-Rashudi, who was imprisoned in December for saying that protests were permitted in Islam during a lecture. He had previously spent five years in detention before being charged with financing terrorism, attempting to seize power and incitement against the king.

Haiti’s government has denied claims that entertainers were banned from performing at its annual three-day carnival for being critical of the state. In a press release, the office of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe strongly refuted the claims, after at least three Haitian bands said on 9 February they were banned from performing at the city of Cap-Haitien carnival for having songs critical of the government. President Michel Martelly openly mocked authorities during his music career as ”Sweet Micky”, by dressing in drag and mooning audiences as he lambasted the government during carnival performances. Amongst the rejected bands was Brothers Posse, who were included in the original line up before being removed by the carnival committee. Their song Aloral criticises the government for failing to implement improved policies on education, environment, law, employment and energy. Martelly said in a radio interview that the music didn’t promote a positive image of Haiti, saying ”We’re organising a party, not a protest.”

A judge has condemned Salford University’s attempts to sue a former lecturer for libel after he compared managers to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Senior officials were accused of abusing the high courts by a judge after they lost the defamation lawsuit filed in March 2010 against Dr Gary Duke, it was reported today (12 February). They attempted to sue their former colleague over posts he had written on a university blog for anonymous users, acting as a forum for criticism of the university’s services. Duke compared Salford University managers to a “bureaucratic dictatorship” in a blog post, saying that Hezbollah was “more accountable and transparent” than the university’s administration. Mr Justice Eady dismissed the case last week, saying it was up to individuals to seek libel action. The case is thought to have cost at least £100,000 and enlisted US court action to force internet company WordPress to hand over details of its users. Duke was fired in 2009 after spoof newsletters criticising university policy were handed around campus, and later lost a wrongful dismissal suit against the university. Salford University said they were considering an appeal against the verdict.

A Russian figure skating star is planning to sue a television commentator after he expressed doubts that the skater underwent spinal surgery as he claimed. Evgeny Plushenko said Eurosport commentator Andrei Zhurankov libelled him by voicing his doubts that he had undergone surgery during a weekend broadcast of the Four Continents figure skating world championships. Zhurankov referenced reports by some Israeli media which said there were no records of his surgery at local hospitals. The 2006 Olympic champion had been forced to withdraw from January’s European Championships, and his coach Alexei Mishin later said he had disk-replacement surgery in Israel. Plushenko’s attorney, Tatyana Akimtseva filed a lawsuit on 11 February.