- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The Belarusian KGB has been searching the homes and offices of independent journalists following an election that handed the authoritarian president a fourth term, journalists and a media watchdog group said.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the systematic raids, which it said seem aimed at seizing all documents and files related to coverage of the Dec. 19 presidential election and the mass opposition protest that followed.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters marched through Minsk on election night to protest fraudulent vote counting. The demonstration was violently broken up by riot police, and about 700 people were arrested, including dozens of journalists and seven presidential candidates.

Photojournalist Yulia Doroshkevich, who works for the weekly newspaper Nasha Niva, said her cameras, computers and tape recorder were seized during a search of her apartment Friday. She said her husband, who is not a journalist but acknowledged to the KGB officers that he also had been at the protest, was taken in for questioning and was being held through the holiday weekend.

Earlier in the week, the KGB searched Nasha Niva’s editorial office, seizing 12 computers, hard disks and memory cards, and also seized a computer from the apartment of the newspaper’s editor, Reporters Without Borders said.

In its statement issued Thursday, Reporters Without Borders said that since Dec. 25, the KGB had searched the offices of three news outlets and an opposition party, the homes of two journalists, two human rights activists, two former presidential candidates and four of their advisers.

The homes of two more journalists were searched Friday, including those of Mrs. Doroshkevich and a reporter for the independent television channel Belsat.

At least 10 of the journalists arrested on Dec. 19 were still in custody, with at least three of them facing up to 15 years in prison on charges of organizing public disorder. The seven candidates, five of whom remain in jail, also face up to 15 years on the same charges.

Most of the people arrested were sentenced to five to 15 days in jail.

The official election results, which international observers said were fraudulent, gave President Alexander Lukashenko the win with about 80 percent of the vote.

Mr. Lukashenko, often called Europe’s last dictator, has been in power in Belarus for more than 16 years. He exercises overwhelming control over the politics, industry and media in this nation of 10 million, which borders Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations.