Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the explusions of several journalists and bloggers from voting stations in Minsk as votes were being counted after the Belarusian municipal elections on 18 February. RSF regard the evictions, in which violence was used, as deliberate censorship. Observers meanwhile claimed that election fraud took place.
Andrei Kozel, a cameraman for Belsat TV, an independent TV station based in Poland, was forcibly detained after refusing to interrupt a live report for his Facebook page at voting station No. 27. He was freed after a night in prison but is facing a possible 15-day prison sentence on a charge refusing to comply with police orders.
The police said he ignored several orders to stop filming and resisted when he was being removed, grabbing a police officer “by his uniform.”
Kozel, who has a badly bruised forehead, said the police beat him, banged his head against a glass door until the glass smashed, and then denied him medical attention while he was in their custody. The court to which he was taken the next day told the police to re-examine the case.
Pointing out that Belarusian legislation does not prohibit filming in voting stations, Kozel announced that he plans to file a complaint against the police officers who arrested him.
“We call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately lift the charges against Andrei Kozel,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “An impartial investigation must be carried out into the unacceptable violence to which he was subjected and into the other violations of the freedom to inform during the polling.”
A press centre set up by the electoral observation NGO Prava Vybaru to report irregularities in real time was forced to close half an hour after beginning a livestream. Explaining that they were acting on the orders of the authorities, representatives of the company that owns the premises told the observers they had to leave.
The NGO nonetheless managed to resume the operation from a different location three hours later, reporting inter alia that observers who had been filming vote counting were expelled from at least three other voting stations in Minsk. The victims included Artsiom Liava, a reporter for the Novy Chas newspaper.
Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.