Beaten and fined: over 40 journalists detained in 2 months of Belarusian protests

2020 2020-07-20T17:50:05+0300 2020-07-20T17:51:09+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

Over 40 representatives of the press have been detained when covering peaceful protests in the last two months, said. Some of them were beaten, while a few were convicted of “illegal protesting” and “resisting arrest”.

Belarusian reporters have always been at the front line of the government’s confrontation with the political opposition and civil society. Even before the election-related protests and the ensuing violent crackdown by the authorities, several journalists were detained and fined over minor offenses. However, since late May, the law enforcement has made unprecedented efforts to prevent the press from reporting on the latest events.

RFE/RL reporter Anton Trafimovich. Photo: RFE/RL
RFE/RL reporter Anton Trafimovich. Photo: RFE/RL

Anton Trafimovich, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Belarus service, is one of the recent and most vivid victims of police brutality. On July 15, he was detained when livestreaming a peaceful gathering in Minsk. The arrest was so violent that his nose was broken, but the journalist was released a few hours later. The following day, however, Trafimovich was detained again on his way to a forensic authority where he was expected to test for injuries. Anton was approached by two men in civilian clothes who took the reporter to the police department and charged him with “disobedience to police orders”.

Mikhail Arshynski, a freelancer working for Belsat TV, was detained on May 7. The journalist ended up serving 10 days in prison after livestreaming a rally in Mahilioŭ. Earlier, he was twice fined for breaking “media laws”.

On May 9, road police stopped the car of Aliaksandr Barazenka, Belsat TV camera operator, only to prevent him from filming a protest in Babrujsk. Later, he was detained at election pickets on June 4 and 17. Barazenka was accused of violating the rules for media workers and his camera was seized.

On May 9, police in Babrujsk detained journalist Ales Asiptsou. He was then sentenced to 10 days in prison and had to launch a hunger strike to protest his illegal imprisonment.

A dozen reporters were detained during a protest held on June 19 in Minsk after Lukashenka’s key rival Viktar Babaryka was arrested on clearly trumped-up charges. The journalists were held despite wearing press vests and carrying valid IDs. They were released without charges a few hours later. All this was done in an apparent attempt to blunt the unbiased media coverage of the rally.

On June 20, Siarhei Bahrou and Aliaksandr Pazniak, both working with a local newspaper Hancavicki Čas, were beaten while covering a protest in Hancavičy. Their violent live-streamed arrest ended in a surprise decision to convict the journalists themselves. As a result, Bahrou had to serve 15 days in prison, and Pazniak was fined 810 rubles (around USD 350).

Police use violence to detain journalists in Hancavičy
Police use violence to detain journalists in Hancavičy

At least 15 reporters, including foreign ones, were detained after the Central Election Commission ruled to bar two alternative candidates Babaryka and Tsapkala from the presidential race and thousands of protesters took to the streets on July 14. A journalist was detained twice during the evening.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs stubbornly refuse to investigate the allegations, leading the way to more violations by the law-enforcement bodies in their apparently illegal war on freedom of the press.

On July 16, the independent Belarusian Association of Journalists released a statement urging the authorities to “stop violating Belarusian legislation”, to bring those responsible to account and to respect the rights of media workers to cover protests and other events.