Alyaksandr Alesin was granted a provisional release today subject to his being available for questioning and not leaving Minsk. The treason charge has been dropped but he is still accused of “collaborating with the intelligence services of a foreign government.”
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its appeal to the authorities to respect his right to an impartial and open trial.
Alesin spent two weeks incommunicado before the Committee for State Security acknowledged two days ago that it was holding him.
09.12.2014 - RWB calls for immediate release of journalist held on spying charge
The Committee for State Security (KGB) said yesterday that it has been holding journalist Alyaksandr Alesin since 25 November on spying charges that carry a sentence of five to 15 years in prison.
Reporters Without Borders calls for Alesin’s immediate release and respect for his right to due process.
The KGB yesterday told his family that he is charged under articles 356 and 356-1 of the Belarus penal code with “high treason” and “collaborating with the special security services or intelligence services of a foreign government.”
The main suspect in the case is said to be a foreign diplomat which whom Alesin was having a drink in a Minsk café when they were reportedly detained by KGB agents.
A state-appointed lawyer has requested that Alesin, who has heart problems, should be released on health grounds. Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities not to hold his trial behind close doors, the usual practice when journalists are accused of spying.
05.12.2014 - Where is journalist Alyaksandr Alesin?
Reporters Without Borders is concerned for the safety of the Belarus journalist, a military affairs specialist, who disappeared last month and is believed under arrest for alleged spying.
Alyaksandr Alesin, also an expert in economics, has disappeared from sight. According to information gathered by Charter97.org, an opposition website, the journalist was seized on 28 November by state security (KGB) agents at a cafe in central Minsk and accused of espionage.
Charter97.org also reports that political figures unofficially confirmed KGB involvement. But the security agency has declined so far to issue a statement.
“We are deeply concerned by the silence surrounding the disappearance of Alyaksandr Alesin,” said Lucie Morrillon, programme director of Reporters Without Borders. “We call on Belarus authorities, in particular the KGB, to disclose as soon as possible their possible involvement in this disappearance, as well as the possible charges of espionage against Alyaksandr Alesin.”
The editor in chief of Belorusy i Rynok, the daily for which Alesin has worked for nearly 20 years, said on 4 December that the journalist had not come to the office since 28 November. But the editor made no further comment.
According to other sources, Alesin has been out of reach since he vanished. His telephone is turned off. The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a RWB partner organization and winner of the 2004 Sakharov Prize, as well as the Viasna Human Rights Centre, have also expressed their deep concern for Alesin. They published an appeal to the authorities to state where he is being held.
Alesin also contributes to the BelaPAN news agency and the naviny.by and Nasha Niva websites. He is known for his professionalism and for work of high quality.
The journalist’s disappearance coincides with charges against two Lithuanian citizens who are accused of spying for Belarus. Charter97 and Nasha Niva raise the possibility that Belarus authorities may be using Alesin as a means of reprisal.
On 3 December, the Lithuanian prosecutor’s office accused a Lithuanian citizen of having transmitted information on the armed forces to a Belarus security agency. The previous month, on 10 November, another Lithuanian, a former airline company employee, was accused of having transmitted to Minsk information on sensitive Lithuanian infrastructure, including military installations.
The Ukrainian crisis is aggravating tensions between Lithuania and Belarus. The latter country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, has criticized Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but has also welcomed establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus planned for 2015. Lithuania and the two other Baltic countries, for their part, have had the NATO presence in the region expanded.
Belarus is ranked 157th of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2014 World Press Freedom Index.