VIENNA, 22 June 2012 – The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, condemned today the arrest of Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut and called the new charges against him for libel of the President politically motivated.
“I call on the Belarusian authorities to clear Poczobut of the charges and release him immediately. Prosecution of journalists for criticizing the head of state has no place in a modern European country. It chills public debate on issues vital for society,” said Mijatović.
Poczobut, a Grodno-based correspondent for Polish Gazeta Wyborcza, was arrested in his home yesterday after a search by police. He is charged under article 367-2 of the Criminal Code (‘libelling the President’) for his online articles on the death penalty verdicts against two men for the 2011 terrorist attack in the Minsk metro.
“The only fault of Poczobut was that he dared publish his views of important developments in Belarus of indisputable public interest. He is one of few remaining critical voices in the Belarusian media and should be able to continue his important work,” said Mijatović.
“I have repeatedly called on the authorities in Minsk to stop prosecuting media workers for criticizing the authorities, and I have in particular protested last year’s suspended sentence against Andrzej Poczobut for alleged insult of President Aleksandr Lukashenko.”
On 5 July 2011, a Grodno court in a closed trial sentenced Poczobut to three-year suspended imprisonment for insulting the president. Later a second-instance court rejected his appeal and the sentence remained in force. The OSCE Representative publicly condemned these decisions and has been in contact with the authorities, including President Lukashenko, to advocate for Poczobut to be cleared of all charges.
Mijatović called on President Lukashenko to use the opportunity of the coming Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus to grant amnesty to all journalists who have been convicted for their professional activity, including Irina Khalip.