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Three more journalists detained in Belarus

A protestor holds an overturned portrait of Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, 15 March 2017
A protestor holds an overturned portrait of Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko during a rally in Minsk, Belarus, 15 March 2017

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

This statement was originally published on europeanjournalists.org on 22 March 2017.

The International and European Federation of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) have joined their affiliate, the Belarus Association of Journalists (BAJ), in expressing grave concerns over the latest detention of three journalists today, making a total of 31 detainees in the last three weeks.

The crackdown on the media in Belarus grew further today as journalists Kastus Zhukouski and Andrey Tolchyn were detained in Dobrush while a freelance reporter working for Belsat Viktar Yarashuk was detained in Pinsk. They have all been released by the police after the verification of their documents although Yarashuk was fined.

At least 9 other journalists were detained across the country on 18 March according to the BAJ:

• In Kobryn, journalists Ales Liauchuk and Milana Kharytonava were detained after covering a protest in the town. According to the journalists, they were beaten, threatened and detained for more than three hours for "illegal production and distribution of media". The police seized their equipment until the court hearing.

• In Barysau, journalists Volha Chaychyts and Siarhei Kavaliou were detained after the TV crew came to cover a planned protest in the city center. The journalists weren't informed of the reason for the detentions.

• Journalists Siarhei Rusetski, Uladzimir Luniou and Alena Stsiapanava were detained twice on the same day: first on the way from Navapolatsk to Vitebsk, where the police accused them of violating traffic rules, and later in Polatsk, where the police decided to investigate whether the group illegally changed the number plate on their car.

• Independent journalist Larysa Shchyrakova was detained under suspicion of alleged theft, when she was heading to Mazyr. Police thought that the journalist looked similar to the description of a suspect.

• Independent journalist Kastus Zhukouski, who was also heading to Mazyr, was stopped by the traffic police.

The IFJ and EFJ condemned the detention of 18 more journalists back on 12 March 2017 while covering massive protests against the unemployment tax, also known as the "law against social parasites", that requires people who work less than 183 days a year to pay the government $250 annually, media reported. 2 of them were sentenced to 15 days in jail, 3 were fined and 5 are awaiting trial, according to a BAJ appeal to the UN Human Rights Commissioner's Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

On 10 March, BelaPAN correspondent Siarhey Karalevich was also detained by the police after covering a demonstration against the same new tax.

Following this first wave of detentions, the BAJ sent a petition to the Minister of Internal Affairs and General Prosecutor on 17 March condemning them and demanding a fair investigation.

In the petition, the BAJ reminded that a journalist has the right to attend mass events, any events of public significance, and distribute information from there.

The IFJ and the EFJ backed their affiliate recalling that holding a journalist liable for conscientious work is inadmissible.

"We draw attention to the fact that violating journalists' rights is not only an unlawful restriction of freedom of information but also violates constitutional rights of all citizens to express their opinion, receive and distribute information," said IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger. "We monitor with our highest concerns the media crackdown taking place in Belarus and urge the authorities to stop harassing our colleagues and to drop all the charges against them as a matter of urgency."

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