November 12, 2019 - Updated on November 13, 2019

RSF condemns German TV crew’s detention in Belarusian capital

Credit: Joe Klamar / AFP

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the detention of a three-member German public TV crew as they were about to film a protest in the Belarusian capital Minsk on 8 November, just four days before Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s meeting with his Austrian counterpart in Vienna today. 

After the ARD TV crew, consisting of German reporter Demian von Osten, his Russian cameraman and his Russian soundman, were detained in Minsk’s Freedom Square (Ploshtcha Svabody), they were held for more than two hours outside a police station. The police also seized their equipment, returning it only after the protest was over.

RSF condemns this act of obstruction and intimidation of a European Union media crew on the eve of the Belarusian president’s first visit to an EU country in three years.

“As if persecuting the few remaining Belarusian independent media outlets were not enough, the authorities have now harassed a foreign media outlet, although it had accreditation,” RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said. “The freedom to inform is a non-negotiable condition of rapprochement with the EU. The Austrian authorities must make this clear to President Lukashenko.”

The Minsk police forced the ARD TV crew to accompany them to a police station that was 15 minutes by car from where the crew wanted to film. On arrival, the police verified the crew’s papers and confirmed that everything was in order. But to delay the journalists the police said they also needed to verify their equipment, which they did not do. Instead they just kept it in a vehicle with the clear aim of preventing them from filming.

This obstruction of press freedom came just nine days before parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 November. The events due to take place on Freedom Square on the afternoon of 8 November included a protest by Stsipan Svyatlu, a blogger critical of the government who is better known by the pseudonym NEXTA.

He often posts extremely popular humorous videos on YouTube and Telegram. The one he posted on 25 October, about Lukashenko’s rise to power, has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.

Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.