(Washington, DC--August 13, 2002) The noted media freedom organization "Reporters Sans Frontieres" has expressed its concern to the government of Belarus about administrative harassment of RFE/RL's Belarus Service and its Minsk Bureau, according to an alert issued today by RSF.
In a letter to Belarusian Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov, RSF General Secretary Robert Menard states that "There is too little foreign media in Belarus. It would harm the Belarusian population to be deprived of an alternative source of information to public channels, such as Radio Free Europe." Menard calls on the Belarus government to award credentials to all RFE/RL journalists requesting them and to not obstruct the movement of editorial staff in Belarus. "Unless this is done," Menard says, "[RSF] must conclude that your government is trying by all possible means to evict Radio Free Europe from your country."
On August 1, RFE/RL's Prague Broadcast Center received word of a series of actions that, taken as a whole, seem to indicate an increased level of threat to the ability of RFE/RL Belarus Service staff and stringers to continue to work from their bureau in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. These actions included learning that the building in which RFE/RL leases space from the McDonald's Corp. for the Minsk Bureau would within days become an off-limits construction zone, and the delivery by hand to the Prague Broadcast Center of a letter from the Belarus Foreign Ministry, threatening to strip all Belarus Service journalists of accreditation as foreign media working in Belarus if the service were to air any reports by an unaccredited journalist--without recourse to appeal. Of the twenty staff and stringers currently working out of the Minsk Bureau, only 10 currently have MFA credentials, while another 11 do not. At this time, RFE/RL is seeking alternative quarters for its Minsk Bureau, while the Belarus Foreign Ministry refuses to meet with RFE/RL officials concerning the accreditation issue.
The "Reporters San Frontieres" release may be viewed at RSF's website, located at www.rsf.fr/article.php3?id_article=3415