Four journalists still in detention, as searches of media continue
Maryna Zolatava, Hanna Kaltyhina and Halina Ulasik, editors of tut.by, the country’s leading online newspaper, as well as belapan.by journalist Tatsiana Karaviankova, remain in custody on charges of illegal access to the government-owned news agency BelTA. The whereabouts of one more tut.by editor, Hanna Yermachonak, is still unknown.
They were detained together with five more people after employees of the Investigative Committee raided the offices of the two independent media outlets last afternoon. The journalists are accused of failing to pay for BelTA’s closed news feed.
Four journalists were released after questioning. One of them, BelaPAN news editor Andrei Serada was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
According to Tatsiana Karaviankova’s lawyer, he was not allowed to visit her. As a result, she refused to answer any questions.
This morning, police searched the apartments of several other journalists, including Deutsche Welle contributor Pauliuk Bykouski and freelancer Aliaksei Zhukau. The police also seized computers from four journalists of the realt.by website. All of them were taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the police raids on two leading independent media outlets, saying they “paralyzed their operations for several hours.”
“These raids, which compromise the confidentiality of journalistic sources, are out of all proportion to the charges,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is hard to see them as anything other that attempts to intimidate leading independent media outlets at a time of growing harassment of critical journalists. We urge the Belarusian authorities to allow these journalists to work freely.”
A call on the authorities to release the detained journalists was also voiced by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir.
“The highly disproportionate measures taken by law enforcement against two independent news agencies raises serious concern about the respect for the independent media in Belarus,” Désir said. “I call on the authorities to immediately release all detained journalists and ensure that both media outlets may continue their work unhindered.”