Dozens of journalists detained in Belarus crackdown

New York, July 7, 2011Belarusian authorities must immediately cease their ongoing crackdown against the independent press and release all journalists in state custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police in Minsk and other cities across the country detained at least 28 journalists on Wednesday who were covering protest rallies that opposition activists have been holding weekly since late May, according to the Minsk-based Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) and reports in the local and international press

Although most of the detained reporters were released late Wednesday, at least nine of them–Sergei Kovalev, Ales Osiptsev, Viktor Masalovich, Viktor Kachan, Sergei Latinsky, Aleksandr Sushchevsky, Olga Rudnitskaya, Mikhail Kornevich, and Yevgeny Shapchits–were expected to appear in court today, BAJ reported. It is unclear what charges authorities had brought against them. By this evening, BAJ reported that at least three of them have been sentenced to up to 12 days in jail.

“These arrests are part of a disturbing pattern of censorship of protests,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “The Belarusian authorities must allow journalists to cover all rallies and protests freely.”

Separately, six journalists and BAJ members in Grodno and Mogilev were imprisoned for up to 10 days after being detained while covering a rally on Sunday, according to BAJ and reports in the local press. The imprisoned are: Igor Bantser, Aleksandr Denisov, Yuri Gumenyuk, Andrei Frolov, Nikolai Detchenya, and Anna Ilyina. All of them were tried behind closed doors. CPJ was unable to determine on what charges they had been convicted.

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. The protest rally on Sunday was held to oppose the official celebration of the Belarus’ Independence Day. Hundreds of protesters silently march in the streets of Belarus and express their opposition to President Aleksander Lukashenko’s authoritarian policies by clapping hands, according to local and international press reports.