Vilnius, Lithuania, August 13, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should stop detaining journalists and allow them to cover protests freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Detentions and beatings of journalists have continued for the fifth day since the August 9 presidential elections in which incumbent President Aleksandr Lukashenko declared a landslide victory. Anti-government protesters have contested the results, holding large demonstrations, according to reports.
“Belarusian authorities should stop the brutal treatment of journalists who have been reporting on post-election protests and allow them to work freely and safely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Detained journalists should be released, those injured should be provided access to medical treatment, journalists’ equipment should be returned, and all representatives of the press should be treated with respect.”
Olga Khvoin, secretary with the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy group, told CPJ via phone that police have detained 68 journalists since the election. She said that 29 journalists were brutalized during their arrests, and some were injured, without providing further details. Twenty-three journalists, she said, are still in detention, though she added that BAJ’s figures are not exhaustive.
Reached via phone, Olga Chemodanova, the head of information and public relations of Belarusian Ministry of Interior, told CPJ that the ministry has an order to “free all the journalists” today and claimed that ministry staff was visiting detention centers to ensure that they would be let go.
She added that journalists without accreditation are working “illegally.” Asked about reports of journalists being beaten, she said she would “find out what is happening.”
But Khvoin told CPJ “no one was released today,” and that detentions continue. She said that one journalist detained in Mohilev in eastern Belarus on August 11 was today sentenced to eight days of administrative detention. The journalist, Alina Skrabunova, is a reporter for the independent Belarusian TV station Belsat, which is registered in Poland.
Khvoin said that in several cases journalists’ equipment was “deliberately damaged.” Naming two incidents in Minsk, she said on August 9 police destroyed the camera of AP reporter Mstyslav Chernov and on August 11 police tried, but did not succeed, to damage cameras belonging to a BBC crew.
Yesterday in Minsk, police detained and beat a correspondent with U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Vital Tsyhankou and his wife Olga Tsyhankou, according to the broadcaster. BAJ has no information on their whereabouts, Khvoin said.
In a separate incident yesterday, also in Minsk, police detained Konstantin Reutski and Evgeny Vasilyev, correspondents with the Ukrainian independent broadcaster Hromadske TV, according to BAJ. In a statement, Hromadske TV addressed the Belarusian authorities urging them “to free the journalists, return them to Ukraine, and to not take steps limiting freedom of speech.” BAJ has no further information on the journalists, according to Khvoin.
Also in Minsk yesterday, Belsat journalists Liubov Luneva and Dmitry Soltan were detained, as reported Tut.by, one of Belarus’s largest online media outlets. They were released the same day, Khvoin told CPJ.