Vilnius, Lithuania, May 13, 2021 — Belarusian authorities must release journalists Alyaksandr Burakau and Uladzimir Laptsevich immediately, drop all charges against them, and cease jailing members of the press for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, police in the eastern city of Mohilev arrested Burakau, a freelance reporter working with German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, and Laptsevich, a correspondent for the local independent news website 6tv.by, according to news reports and a statement by the human rights group MayDay.
Police took the journalists to the Leninsky police station in Mohilev, where they were charged with “participation in an unauthorized event” stemming from their coverage of the trial of members of an opposition group, according to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), a local advocacy and trade organization.
Their trial is expected to be held today or tomorrow, according to that report. If convicted, they could face up to 30 days of detention, under the country’s administrative code.
“Belarusian authorities must immediately release reporters Alyaksandr Burakau and Uladzimir Laptsevich and stop persecuting journalists for doing their jobs,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The Belarusian government must learn that arresting journalists will not make the issues that they are covering go away.”
Since their detention, both journalists have commenced a hunger strike, according to MayDay.
Police arrested Burakau and Laptsevich while they waited outside the Mohilev Regional Court to cover the outcome of the closed trial of activists from Evropeyskaya Belarus, an opposition political group, according to those news reports.
Volha Khvoin, head of analysis and information services at BAJ, told CPJ in a phone interview that Burakau and Laptsevich were “working as journalists at the time of [their] detention and did not participate in any unsanctioned mass event. Even more, [there] was no rally, no protest outside the court building, nothing of this kind at all.”
When CPJ called the Leninsky police station, the officer who answered said no one was available for comment.
When CPJ called Volha Chemadanava, head of the press office of the Belarusian Ministry of Interior, she said she could not hear CPJ’s questions; she did not answer subsequent calls for comment.