A Belarusian border guard is seen in Brest on February 15, 2023. Authorities recently arrested journalists throughout the country, five of whom remain in detention. (AFP/Natalia Kolesnikova)

Authorities detain journalists throughout Belarus, 5 remain in custody

Paris, March 16, 2023 — Belarusian authorities should release all journalists held for their work and stop harassing and intimidating members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

Since March 10, authorities have detained at least seven journalists throughout the country, five of whom remain in custody, and raided the office of one outlet, according to media reports and civil society groups.

“The latest wave of searches and detentions in Belarus is a clear indication that the country’s crackdown on the media continues unabated,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately end their campaign of terror against journalists and should ensure that no members of the press are imprisoned for their work.”

On March 10, law enforcement detained Valery Yudin, a freelance photojournalist and founder of the Tvoi Gorod Hrodna magazine, at the magazine’s office in the western city of Hrodna, according to multiple media reports and the Belarusian Association of Journalists, an advocacy and trade group operating from exile.

The following day, a pro-government Telegram channel published a “confession” video showing Yudin saying that he was detained for his connections to Plan Peramoha, a pro-opposition network which authorities labeled “extremist” in May 2021. He was being held in a temporary detention center as of Thursday evening, according to those sources.

Also on March 10, authorities in the southeastern city of Homel searched the home of Anatoly Hatovchyts, a reporter for the independent newspaper Narodnaya Volya, according to the journalist, BAJ, and media reports. Authorities said the search was connected to the explosion of a Russian military surveillance aircraft in the Minsk region in late February, a BAJ representative told CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal.

That representative said Hatovchyts was not connected to the explosion, and described the raid as “an excuse to put pressure on a journalist once again.” Hatovchyts had headed the Homel regional branch of BAJ, recently labeled extremist by the authorities, for more than 20 years, according to media reports. Authorities previously searched his apartment three times in 2023, those reports said.

On Tuesday, March 14, law enforcement in the Barauljany region of Minsk detained journalist Dmitriy Bayarovich, according to media reports and reports by the banned human rights group Viasna.

Law enforcement searched his apartment and also detained his wife, those reports said. Authorities did not disclose the reason for their detention, a Viasna representative told CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal. Bayarovich worked at state-owned TV channel CTV until 2021, according to BAJ.

On Wednesday, law enforcement in the central city of Slutsk searched the office of local independent newspaper Infa-Kurier and detained four of its journalists, according to the outlet and reports by BAJ. During the search, authorities seized technical equipment and made all people present sign nondisclosure agreements, those reports said.

Two of the detained journalists were released after signing such agreements, the BAJ representative told CPJ, adding that they preferred not to have their names disclosed. However, editor-in-chief Syarhei Stankevich and deputy editor Aleh Rubchenya were ordered to be held for three days for allegedly disobeying the police, and were detained in a local temporary detention center as of Thursday, according to those reports by BAJ.

Also Wednesday, authorities detained Alyaksandr Mantsevich, editor-in-chief of regional independent newspaper Regyonalnaya Gazeta, after searching his home in Vileyka, in the Minsk region, according to BAJ and media reports. Authorities did not disclose the reason for Mantsevich’s arrest, and he remains in detention as of Thursday, the Viasna representative told CPJ. In January 2022, authorities declared that Regyonalnaya Gazeta’s website and Telegram channel featured extremist content, according to media reports.

Yudin, Bayarovich, Stankevich, Rubchenya, and Mantsevich remain in detention as of Thursday. CPJ is investigating to determine the exact allegations against each journalist.

CPJ emailed the Belarusian Investigative Committee for comment, but did not receive any response. Belarus was the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 26 journalists behind bars on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

Editor’s note: Paragraphs eight, 11, and 13 of this post have been updated to correct the spelling of Barauljany and Rubchenya.