EU, OSCE, Reporters without Borders condemn crackdown on journalists and activists in Belarus
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, expressed his concerns and denounced the detention and imprisonment of journalists and freelance reporters for ‘participating in unauthorized events’ in Belarus. He called for their immediate release.
“I am alarmed by the detention and imprisonment of journalists and freelance reporters Mikhail Arshynski, Dzmitryy Lupach, Ales Asiptsow and Alexander Burakou for their alleged participation in unauthorized events,” Désir said. “Journalists must be able to report on events of public interest such as public protests. I am very much concerned by this decision, which impedes on media freedom. I call on the authorities to release all concerned journalists and freelance reporters,” the Representative added.
On May 11, the Kastryčnicki District Court of Mahilioŭ and the Hlybokaje District Court in the Viciebsk region sentenced journalists Mikhail Arshynski and Dzmitry Lupach to terms of administrative detention. Both covered meetings with YouTube blogger Siarhei Tsikhanouski in their cities.
Lupach fainted in the courtroom and was hospitalized with a hypertensive crisis. The journalist is in intensive care at the Hlybokaje district hospital.
On May 12, the Lieninski District Court of Mahilioŭ ordered the detention of Aliaksandr Burakou, a journalist and human rights activist of the regional branch of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, who also contributed to the German radio station Deutsche Welle. The Kastryčnicki District Court convicted a BelaPAN contributor Ales Asiptsou, who declared a hunger strike to protest the sentence.
Burakou was accused of taking part in an unsanctioned rally on May 6 near the pre-trial detention center in Mahilioŭ, while Asiptsou was charged with joining a meeting with Tsikhanouski. Both covered these gatherings.
The Belarusian Association of Journalists called on the authorities to release their colleagues arrested in recent days and to reconsider the administrative cases.
The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its affiliate in Belarus, the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ) in demanding the release of the journalists sent to jail “just for doing their job”.
“This new wave out attacks and imprisonment of freelance journalists in Belarus for doing their job is not only a shameless intimidation against all journalists , it leaves indeed great doubts about the judicial system in Belarus and this even more in times of #Covid-19 when court rooms are not open to the public” said Renate Schroeder, EFJ Director. “We also condemn the high fines of up to 500 Euros for the freelance journalists”.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the arrests of five independent journalists in the space of two days in Belarus in connection with their coverage of rallies organized by an opposition candidate for president. The international community should press Belarus to guarantee media freedom in the run-up to the election, RSF said.
"This targeted harassment in the run-up to the presidential election clearly aims to intimidate journalists and obstruct coverage of opposition activity in Belarus," said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. "These convictions disregard article 34 of the Belarusian media law, which allows reporters to cover public events. There is no justification for jailing these journalists. Their convictions must be overturned and the basic right to inform must be respected."
The detention of peaceful demonstrators in Belarus is of particular concern in connection with the upcoming presidential election, as noted to BelaPAN by the Spokesperson of the European External Action Service Peter Stano.
He stressed that the detentions and trials of dozens of peaceful protesters in recent days "violate the fundamental freedom of assembly."
"Freedom of assembly and association is a cornerstone of democracy, and the Belarusian authorities have a duty to respect and protect it in accordance with the country's international obligations," Stano said. "The European Union strongly opposes any unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly."