A protester speaks to police as they block the road during a rally after the Belarusian presidential election in Minsk, Belarus, on August 9, 2020. Belarus police attacked and detained journalists amid the protests. (AP/Sergei Grits)

Belarus police attack and detain journalists amid election protests

Vilnius, Lithuania, August 10, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should refrain from assaulting and detaining journalists covering protests, and should hold police officers accountable for attacks on the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, riot police in Minsk, the capital, assaulted at least four journalists and detained at least five, according to news reports and a database compiled by the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local trade and advocacy group.

As the protests continued today, police in Minsk and the western city of Hrodno detained at least three journalists and shot one with a rubber bullet, according to news reports.

Protests have taken place throughout the country after incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenko declared a landslide victory in yesterday’s election that was contested by the political opposition, according to reports.

“Belarusian authorities must stop attacking members of the press covering protests, and should ensure that police officers who attack journalists are held to account,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists must be able to report on this pivotal moment in the country’s history freely and safely.”  

Yesterday, Minsk police used clubs to beat Associated Press photographer Mstyslav Chernov, Russian news website Meduza correspondent Maksim Solopov, and Russian news website Daily Storm correspondents Anton Starikov and Dimitri Lasenko, according to the association of journalists and those news reports. Chernov was taken to hospital with bruises and a possible concussion, according to tweets by journalists covering the incident.

Starikov and Lasenko were briefly detained following the attack, and were released without charge, according to the journalist’s association. Police also briefly detained Irina Slavnikova, a business representative of independent satellite broadcaster Belsat TV, and released her without charge, according to reports.

Also yesterday, plainclothes police in Minsk detained Vladimir Romensky, Vasily Polonsky, and Nikolay Antipov, journalists with independent Russian broadcaster Dozhd TV, as they were reporting on the elections, and expelled them from the country a few hours later, according to a report by U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Today, police in Minsk detained Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda correspondent Semyon Pegov and Russian state news agency Sputnik correspondent Yevgeny Oleynik, according to news reports and Sputnik

Pegov remains in police custody after being charged with “destabilizing the situation,” and could face up to eight years in prison if convicted, according to the independent Telegram news channel Baza. Oleynik was released after being briefly held, according to Sputnik.

This afternoon, police in Hrodno detained Jan Roman, a correspondent for Polish satellite broadcaster Polsat, according to news reports. CPJ could not determine whether Roman had been released at the time of publication. 

Also today, police in Minsk shot Nataliya Lyubneuskaya, correspondent of independent news site Nasha Niva, with a rubber bullet, and she was taken to a hospital for treatment, according to reports and posts on Twitter by journalists at the scene.

On August 7, Belarusian authorities also deported Iryna Romaliyskaya, Yury Baranyuk, and Ivan Hrebenyuk, Russian journalists working for Current Time, a TV network affiliated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and banned them from reentering the country for 10 years, according to a report by RFE/RL.

Since August 8, police have also detained an undisclosed number of journalists in Hrodno, the western city of Brest, and the eastern cities of Vitsebsk and Mahiliou, according to news reports.

CPJ called the Ministry of Interior for comment, but no one answered the phone.