Sixteen reporters arrested while covering protests in latest crackdown in Belarus
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest wave of arrests of Belarusian journalists covering demonstrations in support of President Lukashenko’s opponents and calls on the authorities to stop trying to gag independent media.
At least 16 journalists were among the more than 250 people arrested on 14 and 15 July when police used force to break up spontaneous demonstrations in several Belarusian cities in support of two would-be opposition presidential candidates whose candidatures had just been rejected by the electoral commission.
“The ground beneath me was covered in blood,” said Anton Trafimovich, a reporter whose nose was broken during his arrest by plainclothes police while broadcasting live from outside the electoral commission’s headquarters in the capital, Minsk, for Radio Svaboda (the Belarusian service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).
Trafimovich and Violetta Savshits, a reporter of the independent news agency BelaPAN, were detained for an hour after being bundled into a police minibus. Trafimovich had to be given four stitches in his nose after his release.
Danila Palianski, a reporter for the local news website First Region in the southwestern city of Brest, was held for two days after his arrest on 14 July for photographing a protest and was fined 810 roubles (70 euros) on a charge of “participating in an illegal demonstration.”
“The Belarusian authorities continue to harass and assault journalists in the run-up to the presidential election,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Gagging independent media won’t help Alexander Lukashenko to win back support and just hurts the country’s international image. We urge the government to stop escalating its offensive against the fundamental freedom of expression and the right to information.”
The journalists arrested on 14 July included three reporters for the local news website Silnye Novosti in the southeastern city of Homyel, Nadzeya Pruhzynskaya, Maryna Drabysheuskaya and Yuri Hlushakou, who were held for more than three hours at a police station without being told the reason for their arrest.
In Minsk, the authorities even targeted an international media outlet, holding BBC cameraman Andrew Smythe for several hours in a police station. Katsyarina Andreyeva and Ihar Illyash of Belsat TV, an exile TV station based in neighbouring Poland that is routinely targeted by the police, were also held for several hours. Mikhas Ilyin and Artsyom Majorau, who work for the exile radio station Euroradio, were arrested while providing live video coverage of a protest for its website.
Two reporters for the Tut.by news website, Alyaksei Sudnikau and Yusevalad Zarubin, were thrown into a police bus by hooded police officers at around midnight on 14 July. Plainclothesmen briefly detained Radio Svaboda’s Ales Piletsky and Andrei Ryabshyk to prevent them from filming a protest. Of all the journalists arrested on the evening of 14 July, Artsyom Lyava, a reporter for the independent weekly Novy Chas, was the last to be released – at around 5 a. m. on 15 July.
Around 20 journalists were arrested in May and June, when some were given prison sentences.
Ruled since 1994 by Lukashenko, who until now has been reelected in the first round every five years, Belarus is ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.