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Mass detentions of journalists in Belarus

Belarus police detain journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk, Belarus, 26 March 2017
Belarus police detain journalist Raman Pratasevich in Minsk, Belarus, 26 March 2017

AP Photo/Sergei Grits

This statement was originally published on europeanjournalists.org on 27 March 2017.

In Belarus, the detention of journalists for covering massive protests against the unemployment tax is taking place at a disproportionate level. The controversial legislation called "law against social parasites" requires people who work less than 183 days a year to pay the government US$250 annually and has triggered massive protests in the country. Political activists followed by journalists covering these protests have been beaten and detained by local authorities.

Today (27 March 2017), the mass detention of journalists is still taking place across the country. Since Friday 24 March, the law enforcement agencies have detained 55 more journalists (totalling around 90 journalists) across the country.

The timeline of events is:

On Friday 24 March:

- 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 the 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 contributing reports to the TV channel Belsat.

On Saturday 25 March:

- 26 journalists were detained in Minsk, while 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 (a French citizen), Katsiaryna Bakhvalava, Volha Davydava and Ihar Ilyashyn, were beaten by the police, while covering the protests in Minsk. British citizen Filip Warwick was beaten 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 while reporting on the protests. The first two were released in three hours.

On Sunday 26 March:

- 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, while covering the protests, 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 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, while reporting on the protests. 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 trial, after being detained and accused of breaching article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Violations in Orsha.
- An administrative case was opened against Tamara Shchapyotkina in Byaroza under article 22.9, which prohibits contributing [reports] to foreign mass media without accreditation.

Today the journalists were awaiting their trials across the country. The hearing against Aliaksandr Barazenka, journalist for the 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 a video of his detention, which showed that the journalist wasn't swearing when the police approched him and just said that he was a journalist, 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 was falsified.

Marina Kastylyanchanka faced a trial today in Minsk. On 25 March the police searched her house, and 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.

A hearing against blogger Raman Pratasevich started today in Minsk, and he was accused of disruptive behavior. The judge refused to watch a 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 article 23.34 of the Code of Administrative Violations (participating in an unauthorized action). 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).

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