OSCE media freedom representative concerned over treatment of journalists covering demonstrations in Belarus

VIENNA, 28 March 2006 - The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, said today that the detentions of Belarusian and foreign journalists in the aftermath of the presidential election was an infringement of OSCE commitments to safeguard free reporting.

Journalists from Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Georgia, Russia, Poland, Ukraine and the United States have reportedly been assaulted and detained, with some of them sentenced to a maximum of 15 days imprisonment under the country's Code of Administrative Offences.

"Although the exact number of violations is not available, it has been independently confirmed that dozens of Belarusian and foreign journalists were prevented from reporting, arrested, physically assaulted, and sentenced to short-term detention in summary procedures," said Haraszti.

On 23 March, the OSCE Representative asked the Belarusian authorities to provide details and comment on the reports that the journalists had been detained. But the authorities have neither confirmed nor denied the reports so far. Only Belarus state television has announced that one of their crews had been abused by some demonstrators on 25 March.

"I would like to stress that the protection of journalists performing their professional duties, and guarantees of their safety, are fundamental OSCE commitments. The Government must have a pro-active role in ensuring a safe working environment for journalists, even when they cover unauthorised events", he added.

"The lack of permission for an actual event should be not be a reason to prosecute the journalists covering it. Society has the right to be informed about all issues of public importance. This right can only be fulfilled if the press is guaranteed access to them."

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media will continue monitoring violations of freedom of reporting in Belarus. He expressed hope that the authorities would investigate all the cases that had occurred so far.