Vilnius, Lithuania, September 21, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should release all reporters detained covering recent protests, and allow them to work freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On September 16, the Frunze District Court in Minsk, the capital, tried and convicted two journalists who had covered the protests in the country calling for the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to news reports and Volha Khvoin, secretary of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local advocacy and trade group, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Yesterday, Minsk police detained at least three journalists, two of whose whereabouts remain unknown, according to Khvoin and a statement by the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
“Belarusian authorities’ brutal crackdown on independent media covering the country’s protests has been going on for too long; it must stop immediately,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Belarusian authorities should immediately release all journalists detained for their work, and allow them to carry out their work reporting the news without fear.”
On September 16, the Frunze court tried Uladz Hrydzin, a photographer with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Alyaksandr Vasyukovich, a photographer with the Belarusian independent news website Tut.by, found them guilty of participating in an unsanctioned protest, and sentenced them both to 11 days of administrative arrest, according to Khvoin and a report by RFE/RL.
The pair had been arrested while covering a rally on September 13, according to that report. Khvoin told CPJ that Hrydzin and Vasyukovich both had press cards and wore insignias identifying themselves as media at the time of their arrests.
Yesterday, police arrested Dzianis Borshch, a correspondent for the Poland-based independent broadcaster Belsat TV, while he was covering demonstrations; Mikalai Maminau, another Belsat correspondent who had recently covered the protests, at his home; and Siarhei Kazlovich, a blogger for the YouTube channel “Ne Po Teliku” (Not On TV), which has covered the protests and other social issues, according to Khvoin and the journalist association statement.
Khvoin said the police transported Borshch to a detention center Zhodzina, east of Minsk, but that the whereabouts of Maminau and Kazlovich are unknown. She said authorities have not disclosed any charges against the three journalists.
CPJ has documented dozens of attacks, arrests, and detentions of journalists in Belarus in the months before and after the country’s presidential elections on August 9. The Belarusian Association of Journalists maintains a database that has cataloged scores of journalist detentions since the election.
CPJ called Volha Chemadanava, head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, for comment, but she did not answer.