Belarusian cameraman Maxim Laurecki was detained in November 2020 by police while he was filming a protest in downtown Minsk, the capital, on charges of “participating in an unsanctioned event,” and sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest. He was one of dozens of journalists detained for documenting widespread demonstrations in the second half of 2020 calling on President Aleksandr Lukashenko to resign.
Laurecki is a cameraman and photographer at the independent news agency BelaPan, covering politics, economics, and general news, according to news reports. In the months prior to his arrest, Laurecki covered nationwide protests that erupted after the August 9, 2020, presidential election in which Lukashenko claimed victory.
On Novemeber 16, 2020, Laurecki was working as a cameraman at the “Rally of Retirees,” a protest demanding Lukashenko’s resignation, in Minsk for BelaPan, according to a report by the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ), an independent trade group, and its deputy head Barys Haretski, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview. Police detained Laurecki on charges of “participating in an unsanctioned rally” and held him in pre-trial detention, according to Haretski.
In a phone interview with CPJ, BelaPan editor-in-chief Irina Levshina described the arrest as “lawlessness.”
Police in Belarus have been routinely arresting and charging journalists covering the antigovernment protests with “participating in unsanctioned rallies,” and sentencing them to short stays in prison or fines, CPJ has documented.
On November 18, 2020, Leninskiy district court in Minsk found Laurecki guilty of “participating in an unsanctioned rally” and sentenced him to 15 days of administrative arrest, according to BelaPan and BAJ. He denies all charges in court, according to Haretski.
Laurecki served his sentence in the Baranovichi detention center, and was released on December 1, according to reports and Haretski. Harteski told CPJ that Laurecki contracted suspected COVID-19 while in detention, and upon his release did not feel well and still had symptoms of the virus, including high fever and loss of smell. While in detention, all of Laurecki’s cellmates became sick with suspected COVID-19, but no one was taken to the hospital; sick detainees were provided with medicine to relieve the symptoms of coronavirus, according to the same sources.
In November 2020, CPJ emailed a request for comment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, but did not receive any response.