On November 30, 2020, Belarusian law enforcement officers followed participants of an opposition rally, who demanded the resignation of Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and protested against police violence in Minsk, Belarus. In October 2022, Belarusian authorities continued their crackdown on the country’s independent media with arrests and detentions of several journalists. (Reuters)

Belarusian journalists detained, forced to make ‘confession’ videos

Paris, October 12, 2022—Belarusian authorities are continuing their crackdown on the country’s independent media with a spate of fresh arrests and detentions of several journalists.

On Thursday, October 6, police in Minsk, the capital, detained Snezhana Inanets, a reporter at the independent news website Onliner, and her husband Aliaksandr Lychavko, a local historian and reporter with independent news website The Village, multiple media reports said.

In videos published on Friday by a pro-government Telegram channel, Lychavko and Inanets say they were detained for taking part in the 2020 nationwide protests demanding the resignation of President Aleksandr Lukashenko and subscribing to “destructive” Telegram channels and chats. Lychavko also said he reposted information, without specifying the nature of the information. Barys Haretski, deputy head of the banned local advocacy and trade group Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), told CPJ via messaging app that both Lychavko and Inanets were covering the 2020 protests as journalists.

Separately on Friday, a court in Hlybokaye, in northern Belarus, ordered that photojournalist Leonid Yurik be detained for five days for “disseminating information containing calls to extremist activities,” according to BAJ.

“The detention of journalists Snezhana Inanets, Aliaksandr Lychavko, and Leonid Yurik in Belarus shows that authorities’ crackdown on members of the press will not stop until the last independent journalist is either imprisoned or has fled the country,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “It is appalling that some are forced to make ‘confession videos’ suggesting they were at political protests as participants rather than reporters. Those still being held should be released and charges against them dropped immediately.”

Lychavko and Inanets are held in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Minsk and charged with allegedly “organizing or participating in gross violations of public order,” the association reported. If found guilty, they face up to four years in prison, according to the Belarusian criminal code.

In Yurik’s case, officers with the Ministry of Interior’s Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption detained Yurik on Wednesday, October 5, in Hlybokaye, media reports said. Authorities did not disclose the exact reason for Yurik’s detention, but Haretski told CPJ via messaging app that he believed Yurik’s arrest was retaliation for his journalism. Yurik was released on October 10, Haretski said.

Separately, on September 14, authorities in Minsk detained Andrey Ilyenya, a reporter with online sports website Pressball, and held him for 10 days, according to multiple media reports, a BAJ post, and a post by former Pressball journalist Nikolai Ivanov, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. 

Ivanov told CPJ that Ilyena was released on September 25. CPJ contacted Ilyena via messaging app for confirmation but did not receive any reply. In a Telegram post, BAJ confirmed that Ilyena was free.

BAJ reported that Ilyena came under the authorities’ scrutiny because he was recently accredited to cover the away matches of the Belarusian national football team in the UEFA Nations League. Authorities said that he posted a white-red-white flag, a symbol of anti-Lukashenko protests, on his Facebook picture.

CPJ called the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption and emailed the Belarusian investigative committee for comment, but no one answered.