(Minsk, Belarus -- June 22, 2004) An RFE/RL correspondent sent to cover debate in the Belarusian Parliament today was twice denied access to the parliament and physically removed from the Parliament Building. The episode was observed by several members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, in Minsk on a fact-finding mission.
The head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation, German Bundestag deputy Uta Zapf, said of the Belarusian authority's treatment of the correspondent, Yuri Svirko, "I think this is really a bad sign ... of how to treat the free press. The parliament, which is a very important body in any state, should be open to all journalists who wish to report on its work. And they have a right to do that if they have the proper accreditation."
After witnessing the incident, Zapf said that she complained to House of Representatives vice-speaker Vladimir Konoplov about the treatment of Svirko. Zapf said these kinds of incidents were unacceptable and that the OSCE office in Minsk intends to monitor them.
Svirko, a correspondent at the RFE/RL Belarusian Service's bureau in Minsk, presented his accreditation credentials to a uniformed security guard at the doors into the chamber of the Belarusian House of Representatives, which was scheduled to debate amendments to democratize the Belarusian electoral code. The guard refused Svirko entrance into the chamber.
Svirko then pulled out a mini-disk recorder and asked the guard to comment on what basis he was being refused access to the chamber. The guard then allegedly took the recorder away from Svirko, left his post at the door to the parliament chamber and ran outside, while several unidentified men in civilian clothing physically removed Svirko from the building. The security guard later returned the mini-disk recorder to Svirko, only after destroying the mini-disk within.
The RFE/RL correspondent attempted to enter the building and was again asked by an official dressed in civilian clothing to present his accreditation documents. Svirko complied, but was now told that the documents were no longer valid -- despite the fact that the two documents bore validity stamps through the end of 2004 and through April 2005, respectively.
Svirko said the man ordered him to vacate the building. He was then surrounded by six people in civilian clothes, who again forcibly removed him from the parliament building's entrance lobby. Svirko said he was then pushed into the back seat of a police car, forbidden to use his mobile phone, and eventually driven to his home.
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service broadcasts eight hours of programming a day to Belarus, produced in Prague and the service's Minsk Bureau and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, mediumwave and satellite broadcasts. Belarusian Service programming is also available via the Internet, at www.rferl.org and at the service's website www.svaboda.org.