Reporters Without Borders said Thursday it roundly condemns the Belarusian government’s decision to close the country’s borders for journalists. During the past few days, several Belarusian independent journalists have been unable to travel to neighbouring European Union countries while at least one journalist from an EU country has been prevented from visiting Belarus.
“These illegal restrictions violate the Belarusian constitution and impose grave restrictions on the work of the journalists affected,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The authorities must lift this arbitrary prohibition and allow independent journalists to travel abroad again.”
Four journalists have already been affected by these restrictions. Reporters Without Borders has confirmed that on 13 March the Belarusian consulate in Prague refused to issue a visa to Syarhey Shupa, who works for the Belarusian service of Prague-based Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.
Andrey Dynko, the editor of the independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva, was stopped by border police as he was about to board a train to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. They did not give him any reason and told him to ask the interior ministry if he wanted an explanation.
Zhanna Litvina, the president of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), and Mikhas Yanchuk, a reporter for the Poland-based independent TV station Belsat, were prevented from boarding a flight to Warsaw from Minsk on 15 March. Litvina was given an “Exit denied” stamp in his passport.
These incidents come amid growing tension between Minsk and Brussels, which added another 21 names on 27 February to the list of Belarusian officials banned from visiting EU countries. The list, which now has 222 names, was adopted by the EU as a targeted sanction in response to the ruthless crackdown on protests against President Lukashenko’s disputed reelection in December 2010.
Several opposition figures and human rights activists have been prevented from leaving Belarus since 27 February. They include former President Stanislau Shushkevich, human rights activists Valyantsin Stefanovich and Anatol Lyabedzka, Alyaksandr Dabravolski of the United Civic Party, Syarhey Kalyakon of the Spravedlivy Mir party, Viktar Karnyayenka of the Movement for Freedom and Aleh Hulak, the head of Belarus Helsinki Committee.
A member of the prosecutor-general’s office, Pavel Radzivonau, told the media on 1 March that Belarusian citizens who call for international sanctions against the Belarusian could be the target of travel bans or criminal prosecutions.