Update: Henadz Barbarych and Alyaksandr Yarashevich were sentenced today to three days in prison. As the time they had spent in pre-trial detention was deducted from the sentence, they were due to be released this evening.
Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of at least six journalists on 26 April while they were covering anti-nuclear marches that environmentalists and opposition activists organize each year on the anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Four of the journalists were released after their equipment and material was examined but two reporters for independent Radio Racyja – Henadz Barbarych (Геннадий Барбарич) and Alyaksandr Yarashevich (Александр Ярошевич) – were detained in Minsk and were due to be tried today on a charge of refusing to comply with orders from the police.
“The media are once again the collateral victims of the Lukashenko regime’s zero tolerance for civil society and the opposition,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Radio Racyja journalists were doing their job by covering an event of general interest and the police had no reason to intervene. We urge Minsk’s Sovietsky district court to dismiss the charges and release them at once.”
Barbarych and Yarashevich, who had their press cards with them, were arrested after they objected to police attempts to make them leave an anti-nuclear march in Minsk.
Aksana Rudovich (Оксана Рудович) and Iryna Arahuskaya (Ирина Ореховская) of the independent newspaper Nasha Niva were arrested shortly thereafter by plainclothes policemen when they tried to film other plainclothes police officers using violence to arrest an anarchist demonstrator, Ihar Trukhanovich.
They were taken to a nearby police station, where their equipment and memory cards were given a detailed inspection, and they were then released without being charged. In all, about 15 individuals were briefly detained in connection with the protest. Plainclothes police prevented others from joining the march.
In a separate incident, independent journalists Alyaksandr Barazenka (Александр Борозенко) and Nastasya Yaumen (Анастасия Явмен) were arrested in Astravets, in the western region of Hrodna, while covering an opposition march on the planned site of a new nuclear power station. After deleting the video they had filmed, the police released them three hours later.
Radio Racyja employees today discovered that intruders had entered into their Minsk office during the weekend without stealing anything. A Radio Racyja employee said the intruders were probably police officers as the two arrested journalists had keys on them.
Various opposition websites including Charter 97 and Belarussky Partizan and the website of the human rights group Vyasna were the targets of cyber-attacks before the demonstrations.
Belarus is ranked 157th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
Image : Viktor Drachev / AFP