New York, June 30, 2011–In a new crackdown against the independent press, Belarusian police briefly detained and beat more than a dozen reporters, and broke their equipment at a Wednesday protest rally in Minsk and Brest, according to news reports and CPJ sources in Belarus.
According to the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), among the reporters and photojournalists detained and beaten by police and possible security agents in plainclothes in Minsk were Oleg Boldyrev and Maksim Lomakin (BBC Russian service); Pavel Ptashnikov (Russian news agency Interfax-Zapad); Yekaterina Borisevich, Yelena Tolkocheva, and Sergey Gapon (Minsk-based newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii); Vadim Zamirovsky (news website Belgazeta); Kseniya Avimova, Vitaly Semashko, and Vadim Shmygov (Belarusian news agency BelaPAN); Ales Piletsky (independent Belarusian newspaper Nasha Niva); Latvian journalist Ugis Libiyetis; and independent photojournalist Vladimir Gridin. In Brest, police detained journalists Ales Levchuk and Milana Khorotova, BAJ reported. Police released all of the detained reporters the same day, the BAJ said.
Men in plainclothes also broke cameras belonging to Gridin and Reuters TV cameraman Vladimir Kostin, according to BAJ and the independent news website Charter 97.
“It seems that every time journalists pull out a camera on a street in Belarus they are set upon by police,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “This thuggish attempt at censoring coverage of social and political protests must stop.”
At least 150 people were detained at the Wednesday protest rally in Minsk, the independent Moscow-based news website Gazeta reported. Since late May, opposition activists have been holding a rally called “Revolution via social networks” every Wednesday in Minsk and in other cities across Belarus, according to local news reports.
Up to 1,000 participants protesting the authoritarian policies and repression of President Aleksandr Lukashenko marched in Minsk on Wednesday, according to the BBC, clapping their hands every two or three minutes instead of shouting political slogans—possibly to avoid charges of participating in a protest rally. At the June 22 rally, police detained at least 450 protesters including several journalists, the BAJ and the BBC reported.
Following the June 22 detentions, the BAJ called on Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov to “investigate all facts of the journalists’ rights violation, identify those responsible for the abuse, and apologize to journalists.” Belarusian laws grant journalists the right to attend “socially important” mass gatherings and report on them, BAJ said in a public letter to Kuleshov.
Authorities have been relentlessly suppressing opposition protests and retaliating against the journalists who cover them since March 2006, when officials manipulated the results of the presidential vote, CPJ research shows. In the most recent crackdown that started in late December, Belarusian police and security services intimidated, arrested, imprisoned more than 20 independent journalists, and confiscated reporting equipment, in retaliation for their reporting on the protests against the flawed presidential elections held that month.