Belarus blocks journalists from going to EU due to „debts“
Four independent Belarusian journalists have not been allowed to leave Belarus since beginning of March 2012. Authorities offer official explanations that the journalists are debtors in bankruptcy cases or interested parties in relation to debtors.
Saturday, 17 March 2012, by HRH London, based on Belarusian Association of Journalists, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, charter97.org and Committee to Protect Journalists information.
Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime becomes even more creative in reacting to the expansion of the EU list of Belarusian officials restricted from traveling to the EU.
As Human Rights House wrote on 12 March, allegedly, a “black list” containing 108 names had been compiled by Belarusian authorities. Half a dozen opposition politicians and human rights activists have been blocked from leaving Belarus recently.
Journalists banned from leaving Belarus
Journalists criticizing the regime have been obviously added to the list. On 15 March Zhanna Litvina (left), head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), the country's leading press freedom group, and Mikhail Yanchuk, Minsk correspondent for the beleaguered Poland-based satellite channel Belsat, were denied leaving without explanation at the Minsk airport as they tried to make their way to Poland.
On 14 March Andrei Dynko, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva, was prevented from travel, and on 11 March, BAJ representative, Valiantsin Stefanovich was stopped at the border on his way to Lithuania.
Other member of BAJ, Harry Pahaniayla, was informed on 15 March that he had been included in the list of citizens temporarily forbidden to leave Belarus.
BAJ informs that on 16 March Zhanna Litvina paid a visit to the Department of Citizenship and Migration to find out who and why had restricted her leaving abroad.
She was given a note from the data base about the citizens whose international travel had been temporarily restricted. According to the document, Litvina is a debtor in a bankruptcy case. The information to ban her from leaving Belarus was submitted on March 5 by the Ministry of Justice.
“Such restrictions can be made when there is a legal case on bankruptcy of a legal entity. But it is nonsense that the debtor doesn’t know about the fact that such a case has been initiated. So, the information submitted by the Ministry of Justice is incorrect, to put it mildly. Naturally, we will file an appeal”, says Andrei Bastunets, deputy chair of BAJ.
No official explanations
On 15 March member of BAJ and head of the legal commission of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) Harry Pahaniayla (below) filed a request to the Department of Citizenship and Migration to find out if he was forbidden to travel.
The note given to the lawyer says that he has been banned from leaving the country since March 5, 2012, the same date as another BHC leader Aleh Hulak. According to the note, Pahaniayla is a debtor in a bankruptcy case or an interested party in relation to the debtor.
The Ministry of Justice has provided no explanation about what bankruptcy case was meant in the information of Harry Pahaniayla’s travel ban.
Who imposed restrictions?
BAJ has sent official letters to the heads of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Department of Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the State Border Control of Belarus to find out who imposed travel restrictions on journalists.
The letters were accompanied by BAJ’s statement on restriction of journalists and BAJ members' right to leave the country.
Aliaksei Biahun, head of the Department of Citizenship and Migration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Ihar Rachkouski, head of the State Border Control, were asked to inform BAJ “which state establishment and on what grounds has taken the decision to ban BAJ members from leaving the country”, and “to take all measures necessary to restore their rights and prevent violations of Belarusian citizens’ constitutional freedom of movement in future”.
According to BAJ, Prosecutor General Aliaksandr Kaniuk was asked not only to restore the journalists’ rights but also to make prescriptions for the competent bodies to eliminate law violations, reasons and conditions that enable such violations, and to warn those responsible against possible future commitment of unlawful actions.
International reaction – journalists not criminals
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on 15 March that it was outraged by the illegal foreign travel ban on independent journalists in Belarus, and called on the government of Aliaksandr Lukashenka to immediately restore their freedom of movement.
"We are astonished by this blatant act of illegal restriction on the freedom of movement of Zhanna Litvina, Mikhail Yanchuk, Andrei Dynko, and Valiantsin Stefanovich, and call on Belarusian authorities to lift the travel ban at once”, said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova.
"Journalists are not criminals and to treat them as such is a crime. The government must stop punishing individuals for their candid reporting about developments in Belarus", added Nina Ognianova.
Constitutional rights violated
International Observation Mission (IOM) in Belarus demands to explain the current situation with “black lists” without delay.
IOM wants authorities to inform all citizens for whom leaving Belarus is temporarily restricted; to carry out an inspection in each case; to offer an explanation about each fact of restriction of the freedom of movement. Besides, IOM demands that all citizens put on the list illegally or by mistake be struck off the list.
The human rights activists also demand to bring the situation back into the legal framework and “to guarantee respect for the right to travel, in particular, freedom to go outside the country and return into it, for all citizens, including civil activists, human rights activists, journalists and oppositional politicians in the period ahead”.
IOM has also urged the OSCE member countries and inter-governmental organizations “to pay special attention to the current situation in Belarus, where international norms and standards in the sphere of human dimension are violated, and take stringent and effective measures to remedy human rights violations in Belarus in the shortest possible time”.
HRH London, based on Belarusian Association of Journalists, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, charter97.org and Committee to Protect Journalists information.