New York, May 12, 2011--The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the Belarusian government to drop all charges against Irina Khalip, the Minsk-based correspondent for the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, who has been imprisoned since December.
Khalip's trial on politicized charges of organizing unrest started on Wednesday at the Zavodskoi District Court in Minsk. She is charged with "organizing and preparing activities severely disruptive of public order" in connection to protests in Minsk over the flawed December 19 presidential vote. If convicted, Khalip faces up to three years in jail.
Khalip covered the elections for Novaya Gazeta. At the Wednesday court hearing, she denied the charges, saying she attended the protests as a reporter, not an opposition activist, local and international press reported.
"We call on Belarusian authorities to drop these ridiculous charges and release Irina Khalip at once," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Khalip's only 'crime' is doing her job, and doing it well in a country well known for muzzling independent voices."
The Belarusian security service, known as the KGB, imprisoned Khalip on December 19, following the fraudulent presidential vote that she covered for Novaya Gazeta, and initially charged her with "organizing mass unrest." In late January, following an international outcry and protests, including by CPJ, authorities released Khalip from prison and put her under severely restricted house arrest.
Two KGB agents are permanently stationed at Khalip's apartment, and monitor her movement and actions. She is not allowed to make or receive phone calls, answer the door, have visitors other than her parents, or write letters, Khalip's mother, Lyutsina Yuryevna Khalip, told Novaya Gazeta.
Khalip has long been at odds with Belarusian authorities in retaliation for her critical reporting, CPJ research shows. Khalip had her home office raided and reporting equipment seized by police; she received anonymous death threats; and had two of the independent newspapers she edited and contributed for closed by the government.
Following the December 19 presidential vote--declared rigged by international observers--Belarusian authorities began a relentless campaign of repression against the opposition media and critical journalists. The KGB, police, and prosecutors detained independent journalists for interrogation, imprisoned critical reporters on fabricated charges, raided their apartments and newsrooms, and confiscated their reporting equipment.