Czech reporter beaten up in Belarus

Photo, Dan Materna (MF Dnes 21.3.2006)

A reporter for the Czech daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, who was covering the presidential election in Belarus was attacked and beaten up on Sunday night just minutes after leaving a demonstration held in protest against what is widely viewed as a rigged presidential election.

The incident happened in the very centre of Minsk where close to 5,000 people had gathered to protest against the outcome of Sunday's presidential election. Having filed his report from the square, Jan Rybar ducked into a dark passageway, taking a short cut to his hotel, when he was assaulted by two men, beaten up and robbed. Rybar, who suffered concussion, a black eye, a broken nose and numerous welts and bruises, says that although he has no evidence to prove it, he believes he was beaten up by the Belarus secret police:

"What happened was that I was just walking through the passageway and suddenly two men coming in the opposite direction smashed into me without warning and started beating me up. The only thing they said to me was "where are your documents" and when I thought about it later I realized that you wouldn't expect a gangster to ask for your documents, you'd expect him to take your money which, by the way, didn't happen. They didn't take my wallet. They were simply interested in my cameras and my equipment. I think they may have suspected that I was an agent who came to Belarus to support the opposition and they were interested to see what I might have in my computer."

After the attack Rybar stumbled back to the main square where someone called an ambulance. He is now back in Prague, recovering from the experience. MFDnes has officially requested the Belarus authorities investigate the incident. Western observers in Minsk say that the Belarus secret police had been extremely active in the past few days, arresting close to 400 people before the polls and putting pressure on anyone opposed to the regime of President Alexander Lukasenko, during and after the election. In Brussels, the EU has been debating possible sanctions. Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said he does not consider sanctions a wise course of action, because of the need to maintain dialogue with Minsk. It would be much more effective he said to support universities, NGOs, the opposition and all democratic forces in the country.