Plainclothes police arrest a protester in Minsk. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)
Plainclothes police arrest a protester in Minsk. (Reuters/Vasily Fedosenko)

A ray of hope for the embattled press in Belarus?

In a rare development, the Belarusian general prosecutor, Grigory Vasilevich, stepped up for journalists and defended their right to report on ongoing political protests. According to a statement issued by his press office on Friday, Vasilevich sent a letter to Interior Minister Anatoly Kuleshov in which he reminded his colleague of journalists’ rights under the law. While noting that police have a duty to protect public order and that journalists have an obligation to comply with national laws, Vasilevich urged Kuleshov to instruct police to do their work without obstructing reporters. 

“It is necessary to provide execution of the laws in a way that would allow both law enforcement agents and journalists to fulfill their duties and realize their rights as guaranteed by the laws,” Vasilevich said in the letter.

Press freedom groups had urged Vasilevich to investigate reports that police have arrested and beaten numerous journalists covering protest marches in Minsk and other cities nationwide. Belarusian opposition activists have been holding rallies every Wednesday across the country, according to local and international news reports.

At least 77 local and foreign reporters have been assaulted and detained by plainclothes agents at these rallies, according to local press reports and CPJ research. CPJ has urged Belarusian authorities to release our colleagues and to investigate reports of beatings. According to the general prosecutor’s statement, Vasilevich has ordered subordinates to investigate the detentions.

Given Belarus’ very poor press freedom record, it is heartening to see Vasilevich–whose agency has engaged in retaliatory prosecution of independent reporters– standing up for journalists. CPJ has long urged Belarusian authorities to cease repression of the independent press, and we call on Vasilevich and others to follow through.