Reporters Without Borders

Journalist facing jail sentence for exposing Minsk metro security flaws

Journalist facing jail sentence for exposing Minsk metro security flaws

Published on Friday 27 July 2012. Updated on Saturday 28 July 2012.
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Reporters Without Borders condemns journalist Vital Ruhayn’s arrest in Minsk on 25 July after posting a video online showing a lack of security on the Minsk subway although it was the target of a deadly bombing in April 2011.

Ruhayn is a correspondent for Warsaw-based European Radio for Belarus (ERB).

“Vital Ruhayn’s arrest is indicative of the regime’s sensitivities about matters related – closely or otherwise – to the Minsk bombing and national security,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A journalist should not be arrested for highlighting police violations of security regulations. We call for the withdrawal of the trumped-up charges brought against him.”

Ruhayn, 25, was arrested on the evening of 25 July on charges of "hooliganism" and "using obscene language" in a public place. He pleaded not guilty when his trial began yesterday before a court in the Minsk district of Tsentralny without his lawyer being allowed to attend.

The court released Ruhayn and adjourned the hearing for five days to allow the police to correct inconsistencies in the written reports they submitted to the court. Although Ruhayn is now free, the prosecution has not been dropped and he is still facing the possibility of imprisonment or some other penalty.

In the video that was clearly the real reason for his arrest, Ruhayn carried a large bag into the Minsk metro in order to test the vigilance of the police. Although he took the same route as the metro bomber, the police did not at any time inspect the bag’s contents.

On 24 July, the day before his arrest, Ruhayn was briefly detained by Belarusian border guards on his way back to Minsk from the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. They confiscated his passport and laptop during an identity check that lasted an hour.

Ruhayn had left the country to avoid arrest following fellow ERB reporter Pavel Svyardlow’s arrest in June on a similar obscene language charge, for which Svyardlow was given a 15-day jail sentence.

This is the second time in the past month that attention has been drawn to the shortcomings of the security services. Employees of a Swedish advertising agency flew a light aircraft into Belarusian airspace on 4 July and dropped hundreds of teddy-bears bearing messages in support of free speech in Belarus.

A Belarusian journalist, Anton Surapin, was arrested on 13 July for posting photos of this stunt online and has been held by the Committee for State Security (KGB) ever since. Today is his 14th day in detention, which is more than the legally permitted period for pre-trial detention. He is facing a sentence of three to seven years in prison on a charge of helping foreigners to cross the border illegally.

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