CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering protests in Belarus

Beginning in early February, there have been nationwide demonstrations in Belarus to protest the introduction of a new tax on the unemployed. More than 150 protesters have been arrested, dozens have been fined or sentenced to up to 15 days in jail for participating in the protests, and at least 32 journalists have been detained or otherwise obstructed in an effort to censor coverage of protests, according to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

CPJ’s Emergencies Response Team (ERT) has issued the following safety advisory for journalists covering or planning to cover the protests throughout Belarus.

General advice:

  • Plan the assignment and ensure that you have a full battery on your mobile phone. Know the area you are going to. Work out in advance what you would do in an emergency.
  • Always try to work with a colleague and have a regular check-in procedure with your base. Particularly if covering rallies or crowd events.
  • Filming/recording equipment will obviously identify you as a journalist. There are times when looking like a journalist is important to signal to others, including police, that you are there to observe. However, in some instances, it is a good idea not to wear identifying logos, clothing or badges related to a media organization, or to be able to conceal them when necessary. Keep press credentials out of sight unless it is necessary to show them.
  • If going to rallies or crowd events, wear clothing and footwear that allows you to move swiftly. Consider your position–if you can, find an elevated position which would offer greater safety.
  • At any location, always plan an evacuation route as well an emergency rendezvous point if you are working with others.

Dealing with aggression:

  • Read body language to identify an aggressor and use your own body language to pacify a situation.
  • Keep eye contact with an aggressor, use open hand gestures and keep talking with a calming manner.
  • Keep an extended arm’s length from the threat. Back away, breakaway firmly without aggression if held. If cornered and in danger, shout.
  • If working in a crowd, keep to the outside of the crowd and don’t get sucked into the middle where it is hard to escape. Identify an escape route, and have a team emergency meeting point if working with others. If aggression increases, keep a hand free to protect your head and move with short, deliberate steps to avoid falling. If in a team, stick together and link arms.
  • While there are times when documenting aggression is crucial journalistic work, be aware of the situation and your own safety. Taking pictures of aggressive individuals can escalate a situation.
  • Report any aggression to the authorities.

If you are attacked, threatened or otherwise intimidated while covering these events, you can contact CPJ by emailing [email protected].

For more information on basic preparedness, assessing and responding to risk, or covering safety measures when covering civil conflict and disturbances, we encourage journalists to review CPJ’s Journalist Security Guide.