The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about recent reports of pressure against independent media in Belarus. She also expressed disappointment that Internet legislation was adopted without public consultation, and offered the assistance of her Office to review the new bylaws.
In a letter to the Foreign Minister of Belarus, Sergey Martynov, Mijatovic said: "Intimidation of journalists exerts a 'chilling' effect on already weakened investigative journalism in Belarus. The authorities should vigorously investigate cases of harassment and honour their OSCE commitments to protect the media."
Most recently, journalists who had reported on the so-called "hunters' case" were persecuted by law enforcement agencies. In March Natalia Radina, the editor of the Charter97 website, Irina Khalip, Minsk correspondent of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, and Svetlana Kalinkina and Marina Koktysh of daily Narodnaya Volya were interrogated, their apartments and offices raided and their equipment and materials confiscated, with Natalia Radina assaulted during the search. On 28 April, investigators informed the journalists that their computers would be examined further to obtain access to their e-mail and Skype accounts.
"I already brought the attention of the Belarusian authorities to these cases in March. I am concerned that the pressure on them has recently increased, even though the four media workers are not suspects but merely witnesses in the ongoing investigation," said Mijatovic.
In the letter to Minister Martynov, Mijatovic also criticized the recently launched criminal defamation investigation against the Charter97 website based on its users' comments to an article published last year in Sovetskaya Byelorussiya.
Regarding recently adopted bylaws on the implementation of the Presidential decree "On Measures to Improve the Use of the National Segment of the Internet", which her Office reviewed earlier this year, the Representative expressed disappointment that they had been adopted without public consultation.
Mijatovic also requested the texts of the bylaws. "I look forward to receiving the texts of the bylaws and hope that our recommendations were taken into account," she wrote in the letter.
The OSCE Representative offered to organize a roundtable meeting with the participation of governmental representatives, civil society and international experts to discuss the implementation of the newly adopted Internet legislation.
Source: OSCE. Published in Vienna on 10 May 2010