Belarusian journalist Yauhen Mikalaevich was arrested in late November 2020 to serve a 10-day sentence on charges of “participating in an unsanctioned event” that was issued by a Pinsk city court on September 15. 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.
Mikalaevich is a Belarusian journalist from the city of Pinsk, in the Brest region southwest of Minsk, the capital, who works as a staff video reporter for the independent regional news website Media Polesye. In the months prior to his arrest, he covered protests that erupted nationwide, including in Pinsk, after the August 9, 2020, presidential election in which Lukashenko claimed victory, according to news reports.
Mikalaevich was summoned by phone to go to the police department for questioning on November 24, 2020, in mid-afternoon; he informed his editor-in-chief that he was going to talk to police, but after that the journalist’s colleagues and relatives could not reach him for the rest of the day, according to reports. On November 25, they discovered that he had been detained the day before and was serving a 10-day sentence in Pinsk detention center, according to news reports.
The journalist was first detained on August 30, 2020, in Pinsk, when he was covering a protest rally demanding Lukashenko’s resignation, then charged with participating in that rally and released while awaiting trial; he had appeared in court for hearings on September 9 and September 14, according to news reports and Svetlana Garda, chief editor of Media Polesye who spoke with CPJ via messaging app. Mikalaevich had a journalist ID with him at the time of his August 30 detention, according to those reports.
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 September 15, 2020, the Pinsk city court found Mikalaevich guilty of participating in an unsanctioned rally; his lawyer appealed the decision to the regional court in the southern city of Brest, and the appeal was heard there on October 7, 2020, according to Garda. Neither Mikalaevich nor his lawyer were present, and when the lawyer tried to find out the decision, he was told by the employees of the Brest regional court that Mikalaevich would receive the results via mail from the court, according to news reports.
Mikalaevich never received that decision via mail, and only found out that his appeal had been rejected after he was arrested on November 24, according to those reports.
The journalist did not admit guilt and stated that he went to the August 30 rally to cover it as a reporter, according to news reports and Garda.
As of late 2020, Mikalaevich was being held in the Pinsk detention center, and has not expressed any health concerns while in detention, according to Garda.
In November 2020, CPJ emailed a request for comment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus and the head of the Pinsk city police department, Dmitriy Koroviakovskiy, but did not receive any response.