New York, March 31, 2017–Belarusian authorities should cease harassing Belsat TV and all news media in an effort to censor coverage of opposition protests and should immediately release all journalists detained for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police today raided two of the channel’s offices in the capital Minsk, confiscated the broadcaster’s equipment, and detained cameraman Aleksandr Lyubenchuk, according to media reports and a Belsat journalist.
Belsat TV, a Belarusian-language satellite television station that broadcasts from Poland under the umbrella of Polish public broadcaster TVP, has a large network of correspondents within Belarus who have intensely covered the wave of protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s 23-year rule that have spread across the country since February. The pretext for today’s raid was a “violation of the trademark use regulation,” Aleksandr Dikavitsky, head of Belsat’s news department, confirmed to CPJ. Belsat later reported that police had released Lyubenchuk, but that he was scheduled to answer disorderly conduct charges on April 3.
“Today’s raid on the office of Belsat TV–one of the few alternatives to state-controlled media left in Belarus–is a blatant attempt to silence independent journalism in the midst of nationwide unrest,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “This new attack on Belsat TV is a prime example of Belarusian authorities’ long history of using flimsy pretexts to silence critics. We call on officials to allow the station and all journalists in Belarus to work without obstruction.”
In 2014 the Belarusian Supreme Court ruled that Belsat TV’s logo and name violated trademark rules because it resembled that of the Belarusian company BelsatPlus, which sells satellite TV equipment, according to media reports. Belsat TV disputed that ruling on several grounds, according to a statement published to its website at the time.
“It is obvious that the main purpose of today’s raid is to paralyze our work,” Aleksei Minchonok, the broadcaster’s spokesman, said in a statement published on Belsat’s website today.
“The attack on Belsat is only part of a new wave of repressions against independent journalists,” Andrei Bastunets, the head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, said in a statement today. BAJ has document more than 100 cases of police obstructing journalists in their work since the protests began.
Police have detained, beaten, and otherwise obstructed Belsat reporters and freelance contributors in the last month, according to BAJ and news reports. One of the station’s cameramen, Aleksandr Borozenko, is serving a 15-day sentence on charges of hooliganism because of his reporting at Minsk rallies, and has been on hunger strike since March 27, Belsat reported.
In response to the latest crackdown, CPJ has issued a set of recommendations to journalists reporting on the protests. The safety advisory is available in Russian and English.