Police officers detain a protester in Minsk, Belarus, on September 8, 2020. Authorities recently detained, fined, and charged journalists covering the protests. (AP Photo)

Belarusian authorities continue to arrest, obstruct journalists covering protests

Vilnius, Lithuania, September 8, 2020 — Belarusian authorities should immediately release all journalists detained while covering nationwide protests, return their property, and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Since yesterday, authorities have ordered the detention of at least two journalists, raided a journalist’s home, and fined two freelance reporters, all of whom covered protests calling for the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, according to news reports and Andrei Bastunets, the head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, a local trade group, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. 

Protests began in Belarus in early August, when Lukashenko, the country’s president since 1994, declared himself winner of a disputed election, according to reports.

“Authorities in Belarus must immediately stop detaining and fining journalists who are covering peaceful protests across the country, and must release all journalists in custody,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “It is essential that the press is able to cover these historic events in Belarus without fear of retribution.”

Yesterday, the Central Court in Minsk sentenced Nasta Zakharevich, a reporter with the independent environmental news website Zeliony Portal, to seven days of administrative detention on charges of participating in an unsanctioned rally, following her arrest at a protest on September 5, according to news reports and a statement by the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Also yesterday, police in Bobruisk, a city in eastern Belarus, detained Siarzhuk Lacinsky, a freelance reporter and member of Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a local human rights group, according to the journalists’ association and Bastunets. Lacinsky had previously been arrested for allegedly participating in a rally on June 19, but was released early after he fell ill in custody, according to the association’s report.

Under Belarusian law, convictions for “participating in an illegal rally” are punishable by up to 15 days of administrative arrest.

Today, Minsk police raided the home of Galina Ulasik, news editor of the Belarusian independent news website Tut.by, and confiscated mobile phones, laptop computers, and digital storage owned by Galina Ulasik and Valeria Ulasik, her daughter and a former journalist, according to news reports, Bastunets, and a report by the journalist’s association.

Also today, in the eastern city of Mohilev, authorities fined two freelance journalists, Alina Skrabunova and Alyaksandr Sidareuski, 1,350 Belarusian rubles (US$511) each for filming a rally in support of the opposition candidate Sviatlana Cichanouskaya in July, according to news reports and the journalists’ association. The journalists plan to file an appeal, according to the association report.

On September 1, police in Minsk detained 10 journalists, releasing four of them soon thereafter without charge and keeping six in custody, as CPJ documented at the time. The six additional reporters were released on September 4 and have been charged with organizing protests, according to Bastunets and news reports.

CPJ called Volha Chemodanova, head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, which oversees the police, for comment, but she did not answer.