Reporters Without Borders condemns a senior police officer’s decision to allow police computer experts to access the email and Skype instant messaging accounts of several independent journalists as part of an investigation prompted by a defamation suit by a former senior official in the Committee for State Security (KGB).
Natallya Radzina of the Charter 97 website, Svyatlana Kalinkina and Maryna Koktysh of the opposition newspaper Narodnaya Volya and Iryna Khalip of the Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta were told of the decision during interrogation yesterday. Their computers were seized in raids on their homes and offices on 16 March, during which Radzina was hit in the face.
“We demand the immediate return of the equipment seized from these journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Accessing journalists’ emails and instant messaging is a serious violation of both their professional communications and their privacy. It endangers the sources of these journalists, who rightly see it as an additional attempt to intimidate them. The authorities are intensifying the pressure on independent journalists in the run-up to next year’s elections.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The Charter 97 website has been increasingly targeted by the authorities since a repressive decree designed to reinforce control over the Internet, the last bastion of freedom, took effect less than three months ago. This investigation is just a pretext for learning more about the people running Charter97.org and to take measures against them.”
Police investigator Alyaksandr Puseu yesterday told Radzina that they had discovered no documents related to the defamation suit but they had found more than 3,000 articles containing the word “diktatura” (dictatorship).
Radzina was asked about the way the website operates and who its contributors are. She told Reporters Without Borders: “The interrogations and searches make our work impossible. This is like placing the entire profession under a ban.”
The investigation is being carried out as a result of a defamation suit brought last year by former KGB official Ivan Korzh about an article posted on Charter97.org headlined “Relatives of arrested policemen complaining about dictatorship.” The detained police officers were accused of blackmailing KGB officials in connection with allegedly illegal hunting lodges.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) says the actions of the police lack any legal basis and is calling on journalists to rally to their colleagues’ defence. “This is nothing but interfering in professional activities of journalists and another attempt to suppress independent voices,” BAJ vice president Andrei Aliaksandrau said.