Police officers detain a protester in Minsk, Belarus, on July 14, 2020. Police detained at least 17 journalists amid nationwide protests. (AP/Sergei Grits)

Belarus police detain at least 17 journalists covering protests in support of opposition candidates

New York, July 16, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should stop harassing, detaining, and charging members of the press covering protests in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 14 and 15, police in the cities of Minsk, Brest, and Homel detained at least 17 journalists covering protests against the Central Electoral Committee’s decision to deny opposition presidential candidates Valery Tsapkala and Viktar Babaryka the ability to register in upcoming elections, according to news reports and Barys Haretski, the deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local trade and advocacy group, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Authorities in the southwestern city of Brest held one of the journalists, Danil Palyanski, a correspondent with the independent news website Pershiy Region, at the Leninsky district police detention center following his arrest on July 14, according to Haretski and news reports. Today, a court charged and convicted Palyanski of “violation of procedure on mass gatherings,” fined him 810 Belarusian rubles ($330), and released him, Haretski said.

The other journalists were released without charge shortly after they were detained, according to Haretski and those reports.

“Belarusian authorities must stop detaining and prosecuting journalists if they want the country’s upcoming elections to be seen to have even a shred of legitimacy,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator. “The Belarusian press should be allowed to freely report on crucial public events without fear of arrest or harassment.”

According to news reports and a list of detained journalists published by the local human rights group Viasna, on July 14, Minsk authorities detained Poland-registered satellite broadcaster Belsat TV correspondent Katsiaryna Andreeva; Polish broadcaster Euroradio correspondents Mikhail Ilyin and Artsiom Mayorau; independent blogger and illustrator Anatoly Chilik; reporter with the independent news website Novy Chas Artsiom Liava; BBC correspondent Andy Smythe; independent news website Tut.by reporters Aliaksei Sudnikau and Usevalad Zarubin; and Ales Piletski and Andrey Rabchyk, reporters with the Belarusian service of the U.S.-Congress funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Minsk police also detained Belsat TV reporter Ihar Ilyash, Andreeva’s husband, when he went to the Savetski police department to seek her release, Haretski said.

Euroradio reported that plainclothes police officers detained its correspondents while they were broadcasting from Pobeda Square in Minsk, despite the journalists possessing badges identifying themselves as members of the press, and Ilyin saying “We are journalists!” during his live stream.

RFE/RL reported that its correspondents both had journalistic accreditations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

At another protest the following day, Minsk police arrested independent news agency BelaPan correspondent Violeta Sauchits and RFE/RL correspondent Anton Trafimovich, according to those reports. Police beat Trafimovich while detaining him and broke his nose, according to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

During protests in the southeastern city of Homel on July 14, police detained independent news website Silnie Novosti reporters Maryna Drabysheuskaya, Nadzeya Puzhynskaya, and Yury Hlushakou, according to Silnie Novosti and Viasna.

Authorities accused Andreeva and Hlushakou of “violation of procedure on mass gatherings,” but did not file charges against them, Haretski said.

Last month, Belarus police detained at least 14 journalists for allegedly participating in unsanctioned protests; in May, authorities detained five journalists covering opposition candidates, as CPJ documented at the time.

CPJ filed a request for comment on the official website of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, but did not receive any response.