NHC expresses concerns regarding threats against journalists in Belarus

In a statement published on 15 September, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee expresses concerns regarding the severe threats against Natalia Radzina, Svetlana Kalinkina and Nicolai Khalezin. According to NHC, after the tragic death of Aleh Byabenin on 3 September 2010, pressure has mounted against journalists and friends of Byabenin, who have questioned the authorities’ hastened conclusion that he committed suicide.

Below is the statement by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.

The government must take all necessary steps to ensure that those behind the threats have to account for their actions in a court of law. We do not know who are behind the threats against these journalists, but Belarusian authorities are responsible for the security of its citizens, for investigating criminally offensive threats and for protecting its journalists.

After the tragic death of Aleh Byabenin on 3 September 2010, pressure has mounted against journalists and friends of Byabenin, who have questioned the authorities’ hastened conclusion that he committed suicide.

We are deeply disturbed by the severe threats against Natalia Radzina (picture below), Svetlana Kalinkina (picture on the left) and Nicolai Khalezin. The government must take all necessary steps to ensure that those behind the threats have to account for their actions in a court of law.

The threats appear in letters addressed to the journalists, as is the case with the threat against Chief Editor of “Narodnaya volya” Svetlana Kalinkina, and in commentaries posted to their publication on the internet, as is the case with the Charter97.org journalist Natalia Radzina and the playwright and journalist Nicolai Khalezin. In the threats the journalists are warned they may be the next dead journalist in Belarus.

Today the “chamber of representatives” has set the date of the presidential election in the Republic of Belarus to 19 December 2010. This day marks the start of the election campaign in Belarus, a period where the free media and independent journalism is particularly important. We fear that Aleh Byabenins death and the subsequent death threats against his friends and colleagues are aimed at intimidating the media in particular during the election period.

Kalinkina, Radzina and Khalezin are all journalists who fight for democracy and the freedom of speech in Belarus, as was Aleh Byabenin.

We do not know who are behind the threats against these journalists, but Belarusian authorities are responsible for the security of its citizens, for investigating criminally offensive threats and for protecting its journalists.

We urge the Belarusian authorities to:

1. Carry out an immediate, thorough, impartial and transparent investigation into the threats against Natalia Radzina, Svetlana Kalinkina and Nicolai Khalezin, and to bring those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the security and physical and psychological integrity of the journalists;

3. Ensure freedom of expression and association for all human rights defenders and journalists in Belarus.

With kind regards

Bjørn Engesland
Secretary General

Background
Chief Editor of “Narodnaya volya” Svetlana Kalinkina connects the threats with the fact that she has published an article about Aleh Byabenin’s death. She received an anonymous letter with threats. Earlier Kalinkina published an article in which she gave her versions of the death of the founder and head of charter97.org website Aleh Byabenin.

Aleh Byabenin, left, one of Belarus’s leading journalists and human rights activists, and among the founders and leaders of charter97.org website, was found dead in his summer cottage not far from Minsk on 3 September. Contrary to suggestions that Byabenin must have committed suicide, no suicide note was found and no other possible indicators suggest the same.

HRH Oslo, based on Norwegian Helsinki Committee statement and Charter97.org information.

Related links:

Belarus paid final respects to another independent journalist

Belarus: suspicious ‘suicide’ of human rights activist and Charter97 founder

Belarus: harassment of media grows in run-up to presidential election

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