Statement on searches of media outlets and arrests of journalists
On August 7, the Investigative Committee of Belarus said that it opened a criminal case under Part 2, Art. 349 of the Criminal Code (“illegal access to computer information obtained out of other personal interest, which caused significant damage”). Reports also said that the law-enforcement agencies detained journalists Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina, Halina Ulasik, Ulyiana Babayed (tut.by) and Tatsiana Karaviankova (BelaPAN). According to our information, several more journalists were also detained.
The offices of the largest online portal of Belarus (tut.by), the only independent news agency (BelaPAN), and the Navuka newspaper were searched by the police. Journalists were not allowed to enter the offices, which interfered with the work of tut.by and BelaPAN.
We believe this is a gross violation of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. In any case, the actions of law-enforcement agencies seem excessive. Investigation of criminal cases should not affect the freedom of the media and professional activities of media outlets. Of particular concern is the prosecution of editorial offices on the background of systematic violations of the right to disseminate information and intimidation of journalists, including the criminal charges against the BelaPAN founder Ales Lipai and the ongoing harassment of journalists of the TV channel Belsat.
We call on the authorities to immediately release the detainees and ensure access of Tut.by and BelaPAN journalists to their working places.
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Human Rights Center "Viasna"