March 27, 2000
His Excellency Alexander Lukashenko
President of Belarus Republic
House of Government
Minsk, Belarus 220020
VIA FAX: 011-375-172-26-0610
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by the events of Saturday, March 25, when thirty-five journalists were among the hundreds detained in connection with a demonstration held in Minsk to protest your government's ban on a march that was to have been part of opposition-staged festivities commemorating the 1918 founding of the Belarusian National Republic.
Over 7000 protesters attended the demonstration, which was held on the outskirts of Minsk. Correspondents and camera technicians from a number of media outlets and countries were illegally detained. Among them, several were beaten by riot police, while others had television equipment damaged and film destroyed.
Over 2000 helmeted riot police detained the journalists, who were covering the rally for local and overseas media, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists. Photographers and correspondents from the Belarus newspapers Nasha Svaboda, Belorusskaya Gazeta, Pravo Na Volyu, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, Svobodnye Novosti, Narodnaya Svaboda, Zvyazda, Nasha Niva, Maladzevy Praspect, Navinki and Rabochy were detained, along with two local TV cameramen.
Foreign journalists from Russia, Poland, France, and the United States were also detained, and some were beaten. Police beat up correspondents from the Russian television channels ORT and RTR, for example, and deliberately damaged their equipment.
All the detainees were forced into police vehicles and taken to an Interior Ministry facility in Minsk. Some were illegally searched, and none of them were allowed to contact colleagues, family or friends. Film shot by press photographers was reportedly confiscated and exposed. Police provided no explanation for detaining the journalists.
As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ condemns the Belarus police's brutal attack on journalists who were doing nothing more than their professional duty. We call on your Excellency to investigate the events of March 25, and bring to justice those responsible for this egregious violation of press freedom.
Ann K. Cooper