New York, September 18, 2012--Authorities in Belarus must immediately investigate the attack and detention of at least seven journalists reporting on a protest in downtown Minsk today and bring the perpetrators to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Agents in plainclothes repeatedly hit several journalists covering an opposition protest organized by activists calling for a boycott of Sunday's parliamentary vote, according to news reports. Sergei Grits, a photographer for The Associated Press, said his face was covered with blood after one of the assailants punched him and broke his glasses, according to AP.
All of the journalists were shoved into a minivan with no license plates and driven to a police station where their equipment and documents were confiscated with no explanation, news reports said. Police held the journalists without charge for two hours and then released them, the AP reported. The officials also deleted the images and video recordings from the journalists' cameras before returning the equipment, Reuters reported.
The journalists who were detained and obstructed from reporting include Reuters photojournalist Vasiliy Fedosenko; cameraman Dmitry Rudakov and reporter Aleksei Akulov of the German broadcaster ZDF; Tatyana Zenkovich, a photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency; Pavel Podobeda, reporter for the Minsk-based news agency BelaPan; and independent journalist Aleksandr Borozenko, the Belarusian Association of Journalists reported.
"This violent obstruction of news-gathering reinforces the country's disreputable record as one of the world's most censored nations," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Authorities should end the crude censorship tactics of beatings and detentions, and instead respect their own electoral process by allowing unfettered coverage of the parliamentary vote."
Belarusian authorities are known for silencing journalists and repressing supporters of the opposition, particularly around sensitive political events such as elections, CPJ research shows. An intense cycle of repression against the independent press has been ongoing since the December 2010 presidential vote, which left Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenko in power. International observers declared the 2010 vote flawed.
- For more data and analysis on Belarus, visit CPJ's Belarus page here.