New York, July 31, 2018--Belarusian authorities should end their harassment of independent blogger Sergey Petrukhin and allow him to work without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court today charged Petrukhin with disobedience of an official order, according to the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Petrukhin, who runs the video blog People's Reporter, was detained outside his apartment building on July 27 after refusing to let police enter, according to reports. Police had also issued a summons for Petrukhin on July 24, according to the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Petrukhin told the association he ignored the summons, but was aware that an investigation had been opened against him. The investigation relates to an insult complaint filed by an officer who detained the blogger earlier this year, Petrukhin's friend and blog co-host Aleksandr Kabanov, told the Belarusian Service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
The Ministry of Interior did not immediately respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.
Petrukhin covers reports of alleged local corruption on a YouTube-based blog that has about 17,000 subscribers. In recent posts, he criticized the construction of an automobile battery plant near Brest, saying it would be harmful for the environment.
"We call on Belarusian authorities to drop these charges against Sergey Petrukhin and stop harassing him," said CPJ's Europe and Central Asia research associate, Gulnoza Said. "Journalists play an important role in raising issues of public interest and should be free to work without fear of retaliation."
At a district court hearing today, a judge allowed Petrukhin to hire a defense attorney and released him pending trial on the disobedience charge. The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow, the Belarusian Association of Journalist reported.
In a live-stream that Petrukhin filmed of his July 27 arrest, a police officer is seen reading a search warrant to the blogger. When Petrukhin refused to let police in the building, the officers detained him. A police officer also cited a complaint filed by a person named as Ryabushko, accusing Petrukhin of insult.
Petrukhin's blog co-host Kabanov said in a follow-up video post that Nikolai Ryabushko is a police officer who detained the bloggers in February and kept them outside in cold weather for several hours before taking them to the courtroom.
CPJ has previously documented how authorities jailed Petrukhin for 15 days in March 2017, after he attempted to live-stream protests.