New York, March 28, 2017--Belarusian authorities should immediately release all journalists jailed covering protests and should cease obstructing reporters in an effort to keep news of the protests out of media reports, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), security forces have detained, beaten, or otherwise harassed more than 100 journalists since nationwide protests began in February. On March 23, CPJ reported on the obstruction of at least 32 journalists. The weekend of March 25-26 alone, media reported nearly 60 additional incidents of attacks on the press around the country. Courts in Belarus' capital, Minsk, and in the northeastern city of Vitebsk sentenced eight journalists to prison, according to BAJ, which keeps a detailed record of attacks on the press.
"Locking journalists in jail will not make the discontent in Belarus disappear," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "We call on Belarusian authorities to take the first step in reversing its long record of repression and censorship by immediately and unconditionally releasing all journalists in prison for covering protests."
On March 27, Minsk's Moskovsky District Court sentenced Aleksandr Borozenko, a cameraman for the independent online television station Belsat, to 15 days in prison on charges of hooliganism, according to media reports. He announced he would go on hunger strike to protest the verdict, according to media reports. Minsk's Sovetsky District Court sentenced freelance journalist Marina Kastilyanchenko to 15 days in prison on charges of disobeying police, according to the human rights organization Vesna. Courts in Minsk also sentenced Sergei Kiyko, a freelance journalist, to 12 days in prison on charges of participating in an unsanctioned protest; Roman Protasevich, a blogger and contributor to the Russian daily newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, to 10 days in prison on charges of hooliganism; and Denis Ivashin, editor of the news website InformNapalm, to five days in jail on charges of participating in an unsanctioned protest, according to BAJ.
In the northeastern city of Vitebsk, courts jailed freelance journalists Leonid Svetik and Konstantin Mordvintsev for 15 days each on charges of participating in an unsanctioned protest. A court sentenced Radio Racyja journalist Artyom Sizintsev to 10 days in prison on the same charge, according media reports.
Police beat Belsat TV's Katerina Bakhvalava, Olga Davydova and Igor Ilyash while they covered protests in Minsk, according to BAJ. British freelance photographer Filip Warwick and French freelance reporter Olga Morva were also beaten, Warwick told CPJ. Police subsequently held the photographer for more than six hours before releasing him without charge, he said.
According to media reports and human rights organizations, more than 700 people were detained during the March 25-26 rallies, and dozens of journalists were briefly detained or otherwise obstructed in Minsk, Vitebsk, Brest, Grodno, and Gomel.
Protests erupted in February after the imposition of a new tax on Belarusians who have been unemployed for more than six months without seeking work at a government job center, but have since developed into broader protests against the 23-year rule of President Aleksandr Lukashenko. March 25 is the day Belarus marks the creation of the Belarusian People's Republic in 1918, known locally as Freedom Day.