The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), an affiliate of the International Press Institute (IPI), today expressed concern at new threats against Belarusian journalist Iryna Khalip, the Minsk correspondent of Moscow-based daily newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
On 22 June Khalip found a chicken head in a plastic bag placed inside an unstamped envelope left in her mailbox, Belarusian website Charter 97 reported. Khalip told the website: “I see it as a direct life threat.”
According to reports, Khalip has suffered threats and beatings, especially following protests against the disputed December 2010 presidential election, which led to the re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko and which many international observers decried as fraudulent.
A court in May 2011 gave Khalip – the wife of Belarusian politician and activist Andrei Sannikov, who challenged Lukashenko in the 2010 election – a suspended two-year prison term. She remains barred from leaving the country.
Earlier that year, authorities attempted to take custody of Khalip and Sannikov’s 3-year-old son after both were arrested following protests against the 2010 election results. Authorities, however, eventually abandoned the effort.
In 2010, the Central European Initiative (CEI) and SEEMO selected Khalip for a special mention in relation to the CEI SEEMO Award for Outstanding Merits in Investigative Journalism.
SEEMO Secretary General Oliver Vujovic commented: “I call on the police authorities to investigate and bring to justice those who have been threatening Iryna Khalip. I also call on the Belarusian authorities to free all detained journalists and to abstain from threats and prosecution of all media professionals.”
In other news, Belarusian authorities last weekend released Andrzej Poczobut, Belarus correspondent for Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and a Polish minority activist, who was detained in Grodno on 21 June.
Poczobut reportedly faces up to five years of prison for allegedly defaming Lukashenko, as well as the possibility of further time in prison under a previous, three-year sentence for insulting the president. Poczobut was imprisoned for 91 days under the previous sentence before a court in July 2011 suspended the sentence and ordered him freed.