Vilnius, Lithuania, September 2, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should immediately release journalists detained while covering protests in the country, and stop harassing and arresting members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, police in Minsk, the capital, detained at least 10 journalists covering a student rally demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to news reports and Barys Haretski, deputy head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local trade group, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. The journalists possessed press badges and permits to work in Belarus, Haretski said.
Four of the journalists have been released without charge, and six remain in custody at the Oktiabyrsky police station in Minsk, according to Haretski.
“Belarusian authorities must stop this pattern of detaining and harassing journalists covering peaceful protests, and immediately release all journalists in custody,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Journalists must be able to cover newsworthy events, and it is the job of the police to ensure their safety, not treat them as criminals.”
The head of the operational department of the Oktiabyrsky police station, Alyaksandr Martynovich, said that the detained journalists were suspected of participating in the rally, according to news reports. Under Belarusian law, if charged and convicted with participating in an illegal rally, the journalists could face up to 15 days of administrative arrest.
The reporters who remain in custody are Nadzeya Kalinina and Aleksey Sudnikau from the Belarusian independent news website Tut.by; Siarhey Shchegolev, Mikita Dubalenka, and Maryia Eleshevich from the local Komosomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi daily, and Andrey Shauluga from the independent news agency BelaPAN, according to Haretski and news reports.
Haretski said the four reporters who were released were Maryia Vaitovich, with Polish broadcaster Euroradio; Roman Godun, with the Belarusian independent business newspaper Belarusy i Rynok; Vasily Semashko, with the Russian state-owned broadcaster NTV; and Kiryl Rubcou with Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Haretski said it was not clear why some journalists had been released while others remained in custody. As of this evening, authorities had not filed any charges against the six reporters in custody or brought them to court for any hearings, he said.
CPJ called Volha Chemodanova, head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, but she did not answer.