Our correspondent Andrzej Poczobut has allegedly insulted the president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in eight articles for "Gazeta Wyborcza" and two commentaries on the internet. He can be sentenced to two years of prison. Mr. Poczobut is also accused of slandering the president, for which he can be sentenced to four years of prison.
The KGB and the prosecutor in Grodno have not revealed why exactly they think our correspondent has broken the law. The accusation are general. But the authorities did find fault even in an article which did not as much as mention president Lukashenko. This shows the state of democracy and freedom of speech in Belarus today.
Since April 6 our correspondent has been in custody awaiting trial. He does not know how long the situation will continue because the date of the first hearing has not been set. This is a deliberate repressive measure.
Mr. Poczobut was to be freed after 72 hours, but the authorities in Belarus are afraid of his courage, unfaltering character and sober judgment of the situation in the country, which he has frequently described in "Gazeta".
The wife and two small children of Mr. Poczobut are also being punished in this way. Their only "fault" is that they are family members of a journalist who never intended to flee and reported to the authorities whenever summoned. The Soviet authorities in Stalin's times behaved similarly.
Catherine Ashton, the EU's head of diplomacy wrote about Mr. Poczobut's case: "The EU strongly condemns all harassment, arrests, and intimidation of representatives of the Belarusian independent media as well as violations of the fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the media. The EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to end at once the prosecution of independent journalists for slander or other politically-motivated charges".
We demand that Mr. Poczobut be freed immediately and all charges against him dropped. We protest against the harassment and false accusations against a journalist who performed his duties in an honest manner.