Mass detentions of journalists in Belarus


Update (28.03.2017): Aliaksandr Barazenka, Belsat cameraman, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail yesterday, announced a hunger strike. On March 25 he was detained by the police, while covering the protests in Minsk. Despite repeating several times during the detention that he is a journalist, he was charged with “minor hooliganism”.

More journalists were prosecuted in Belarus today: Dzianis Ivashyn was sentenced to 5 days in jail, Kanstantsin Mardzvintsau to 15 days in jail, Syarjuk Kijko to 12 days in jail and Viktar Stukau was fined.

In Belarus, since Friday March 24, 2017 the law enforcement agencies detained 55 (totally around 90 journalists) more journalists for covering massive protests against the unemployment tax. The controversial legislation, called “law against social parasites” that requires people who work less than 183 days a year to pay the government $250 annually, triggered a massive protest in the country. Some journalists covering these protests have been beaten and detained by local authorities. While the majority was released the same day, some of the journalists were sentenced to 5-15 days in jail on the grounds of “hooliganism” (waving hands and swearing).

The timeline of events is:

On Friday March 24:

  • 4 journalists Ales Zaleuski, Halina Abakunchyk, Kristina Berdynckikh and Gulliver Cragg were detained by the police, while they were reporting on the donations for detainees at the office of Green party. They were released in an hour.
  • 4 journalists Maryna Drabysheuskaya, Maria Bulavinskaya, Yauhen Merkis and Siarjei Liapin were warned by the prosecutor’s office against contribution to TV channel Belsat.

On Saturday March 25:

  • 26 journalists were detained in Minsk, when covering the protests. Most of them were released within three hours, Dzianis Ivashyn, Aliaksandr Barazenka and Marina Kastylyanchanka were left in pre-trial detention.
  • 4 journalists Volha Morva (French citizen), Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, Volha Davydava and Ihar Ilyashyn were beaten up by the police, while covering the protests in Minsk. British citizen Filip Warwick was beaten up and detained by the police for 6 hours, he was not allowed to contact the Embassy.
  • 4 journalists Alena Bychkova, Ivan Yaryvanovich, Alena Hermanovich and Larysa Shcyrakova were detained in Homel, while reporting on the protests. They were released the same day.
  • 3 journalists Volha Chaychyts, Andrei Kozel and Artsiom Sizintsau were detained in Vitebsk. When reporting on the protests. The first two were released in three hours.

On Sunday March 26:

  • 3 journalists Aliaksaei Minchonak, Ales Zaleuski and Raman Pratasevich were detained in Minsk, while covering the protests. The first two were released the same day.
  • 3 journalists Pavel Levinau, Kanstantsin Mardzvintsau and Leanid Svetsik were detained in Vitebsk, when reporting the protest, and left in pre-trial detention. They were accused of breaching article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Violations. Journalist Artem Sizintsavym was also detained in Vitebsk and left behind the bars until the trial.
  • Andrei Kukharchyk was detained in Brest, while covering the protests. He was released the same day.
  • Alena Hermanovich was detained in Homel, when reporting the protest. She was released the same day.
  • 7 journalists were detained in Babruysk, while covering the protests. All of them were released the same day, although a camera and flash-cards were seized from journalist Dzianis Nosau.
  • Ihar Kazmerchak is awaiting the trial, after he was detained and accused of breaching article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Violations in Orsha.
  • Administrative case was opened against Tamara Shchapyotkina in Byaroza for under article 22.9, which prohibits contribution to foreign mass media without accreditation.

Today the journalists were awaiting the trials across the country. Hearing against Aliaksandr Barazenka, journalist of TV channel “Belsat”, started today in Minsk. He was accused of disruptive behavior, despite his arguments that he was just reporting on the protests. Despite the video of the detention, which showed that the journalist wasn’t swearing and just said that he was a journalist, when the police approached him, Barazenka was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Another court hearing against Dzianis Ivashyn started today, the defense found out that the protocol in the case is different from the copy of the protocol that Ivashyn has. His lawyer believes that the evidence were falsified.

Marina Kastylyanchanka faced a trial today in Minsk. On March 25 the police searched her house, she was accused of breaching article 23.4 of the Code of Administrative Violations (disobeying the police). Kastylyanchanka was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Hearing against blogger Raman Pratasevich started today in Minsk, he was accused of disruptive behavior. The judge refused to watch the video, which could show evidence that the journalist wasn’t swearing or waving his hands. Pratasevich was sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Kanstantsin Mardzvintsau and Leanid Svetsik had their trial in Vitebsk today. They were accused of breaching the article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Violations (participating in an unauthorized actions). Svetsik was sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Another hearing took place in Vitebsk today against radio journalist Artem Sizintsavym. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail.

The updated list of detained journalists can be found on the website of Belarusian Association of Journalists (English version).

Photo Credit: Sergei GAPON / AFP