Good Cop or Bad Cop?
On October 19 Pavel Seviarynets, BAJ member and a leader of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Party, was leaving the village of Kuplin, Pruzhany district, where he was serving three years’ of labor sentence for participating in the December 19, 2010 demonstration. His friends and journalists were going to meet him in Kuplin; however, in the morning they found out that he had been boarded on a night train to Minsk and was due to arrive about 9 am. So, they gathered at the railway station to meet him there.
However, ten journalists were detained at the platform under the pretext that they looked suspicious. An hour later all of them were set free. The officers of the police and of special security squad did not hide the fact that they knew they were detaining journalists; moreover, it was obvious that journalists were picked out intentionally.
“Our talk with Aliaksandr Barsukou lasted more than half an hour. We expressed our concerns over the arbitrary detentions of journalists. We reminded that not only the police, but journalists also have their professional duties, namely to be at the place of events and register everything what’s going on,” said Zhanna Litvina.
In his turn, Aliaksandr Barsukou replied that he had not been at the place of the conflict, but he had to appear there because the spokesperson of the police department Aliaksandr Lastouski was away on holiday. Aliaksandr Barsukou underlined that he personally checked all journalists’ credentials and ordered to release them all.
However, journalists’ testimonies give another version of the story.
For example, BelaPAN journalist Zakhar Scharbakou was detained together with his colleague Andrei Korsakau and BAJ spokesperson Barys Haretski. “AMAP officers, first lieutenant and sergeant, came up to us at the platform. We were asked where we were going. Then we were asked what we had in our rucksacks. Seeing a photo camera in Korsakau’s bag, the lieutenant said taking photos without a special permit was forbidden. After we showed our journalists’ credentials, the lieutenant announced that we had to proceed with him to the police station. He could not name the exact reason for detention, but then later added that we looked suspicious and we might carry forbidden items with us. We again explained that we were journalists and were performing professional duties. We remarked that the Belarusian law envisages criminal liability for interfering with journalists work. Despite all this, the officers made us proceed with them to the police station where we saw a captain and a person in plain clothes. The latter did not introduce, but only commanded to switch off cell phones threatening to apply force /…/ Approximately an hour later Aliaksandr Barsukou appeared, checked again our credentials and ordered to set us free,” these are words of Zakhar Scharbakou.
Euroradio journalist Vital Ruhain with two his colleagues appeared at the platform, and at once the police officers came up. “They claimed we had to proceed with them because we caused suspicion and might have forbidden items. We showed our journalists’ credentials, but anyway had to proceed with them. We spent about an hour at the police station, but nobody explained our status to us. Nobody inspected our bags for “forbidden items”. Then the head of the police Aliaksandr Barsukou appeared, our documents were checked again, and we were set free,” told Vital Ruhain.
“I managed to walk behind the police and headed for the planned place of the meeting,” says a journalist of Solidarity Siarhei Balay. “There, where carriage No10 was due to stop, a small group of people gathered who came to meet Seviarynets. Here I saw how two other my colleagues Yahor Majorchyk and Dzianis Nosau were detained.
A politician Vital Rymasheuski, also present at the platform, tried to draw attention of others that the police were detaining journalists at the entrance to the platform. In response, the officers surrounded the politician and detained him too. The detentions were carried out under the guidance of the head of the Minsk police Aliaksandr Barsukou.”
“Beside this Saturday incident, we discussed the overall situation in relation between the police and journalists,” said Zhanna Litvina. BAJ leaders presented monitoring data to the head of the police showing 35 incidents of detentions of journalists, four of which ended with administrative arrests.
Aliaksandr Barsukou supposes that relations between the police and journalists have been pretty normal lately, although both sides might have claims to each other.
As an example of good practices, Zhanna Litvina told about so called “safety journalists’ cards” introduced in Moscow. Unfortunately, the head of the police refused to discuss it at some special meeting between the police and journalists, saying he is ready to answer any questions at press conferences for journalists and during business hours. Nevertheless, he promised to study the experience of our closest neighbors, and to check information about the recent incident.