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Press freedom

April 10, 2011

Authorities in Belarus have charged a journalist with slandering President Alexander Lukashenko. He could face up to four years in prison if found guilty.

A man raising his handcuffed hands
The EU has slammed Belarus over its human rights recordImage: AP

The Minsk correspondent of Poland's biggest-selling daily newspaper has been detained and charged with insulting the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

Andrzej Poczobut, who writes for the Gazeta Wyborczy daily, was arrested on April 6 and charged on Saturday night, according to the Union of Poles in Belarus group.

He was said to have committed the offenses in articles he wrote in the Polish daily and also on opposition websites.

Lukashenko on several TV screens in a department store
Lukashenko has a firm grip on his country's mediaImage: Bymedia

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said the journalist was reportedly on the way to a meeting with EU delegates in the Ukrainian capital when he was arrested.

"This is yet another example of ongoing human rights violations conducted by the authorities in Belarus," Ashton's office said in a statement.

"The EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to end at once the prosecution of independent journalists for slander or other politically motivated charges," it added.

If found guilty of slandering the president, Poczobut could face up to four years in prison.

The Gazeta Wyborczy's editor, Roman Imielski, told news agency Reuters that Poczobut would receive all available assistance.

"We will do everything in our power to help him," he said. "We have people on the spot and we are working through the Polish Foreign Ministry and EU to ease his plight."

This incident is not the first time Poczobut has been singled out by Belarusian authorities. In January, he was ordered to pay a $580 (400 euros) fine after being accused of helping people travel to Minsk to take part in anti-government protests. He was jailed for almost a month before the ruling.

Author: Darren Mara (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Toma Tasovac